Do Customers Experience Your Internal Collaboration — or Lack of It?


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group2-hi5_25902484"Our clients helped us see that in some cases where we weren't collaborating, they would experience our lack of collaboration," said Senior Vice President of Insights & Client Experience at SunTrust Bank, Jeff VanDeVelde. Is your voice of the customer program letting you know similar insights? If not, it's time to change it up, and reveal these gaps, if they exist — which are more than likely in any organization.

"We decided our purpose is finding a way to financial well-being for SunTrust", Jeff explained in my Customer Experience talk show. "And one of four guiding principles for that was called Client First. Both the purpose and the guiding principles are owned by the entire company, so that mandated a need to take an across-the-lines-of-business collaborator approach. We knew we had to define Clients First and then embed what that means to all the things within our business in order to deliver on that promise of putting Clients First."

The Power of Workshops
To do this, they conducted ethnographic research, going to clients' businesses and homes to understand "a day in the life" of customers. They explored the role of the bank for clients, and what clients felt when the bank put clients first. They taped and edited the interviews and showed them to groups of cross-discipline employees in workshops. They viewed these workshops as a pivot point to rise above preconceived notions of clients and the bank and employee roles. Jeff said: "These workshops were some of the best catalysts for the big change that needed to get made."

Their voice-of-the-customer program is extensive across their 27 lines of business, and people pay attention to the survey ratings and verbatim comments, "but there’s nothing like bringing those to life through real customers, the way they talk about it, feeling the sentiment that that client just expressed, especially at scale — the percentage of clients that believe that about you", Jeff explained about the power of seeing the customer interview videos in cross-functional workshops.

The workshops were comprised of customer-facing employees (aka high-end teammates) and representatives from IT, service, marketing, risk and compliance, product development, and so forth. "It allowed the Relationship Managers to say 'Yeah, that's what I'm up against everyday!' It allowed the Treasury people who don't ever call on clients to say 'Wow, that's what you're up against everyday?' It really put the client in the center of the room, which is what we wanted, and it connected the dots back to what we measure statistically on an ongoing basis."

Strategic Focus
To prepare for these workshops, Jeff's team did a regression analysis of clients' banking behaviors driven by the sentiment factors uncovered in the ethnographic research. And they began measuring those moments of truth. In the workshops, they brainstormed what each attendee's work group could do differently to improve the top factors revealed through the client research. They decided to focus on the improvement opportunities that cut across all of the functional areas because they would have the biggest impact on improved customer experience, reduced costs, and increased revenue.

"Most people, when they do their strategic planning prioritization, focus on what they can completely control. Typically, those things lead to incremental improvements. We said, 'You need to carve out a percentage of your project capacity to work on collaborative efforts that aren't just about your own area, but things that will drive better client results, better client impact."

"We set the priorities once a year and we validate those once a year and we measure the results continually. We now bring clients into our workshops to help us understand what they're working toward in the future. It helps us plan strategically for the future. We conduct these workshops just prior to our annual planning process. That's because these insights affect everything going on the rest of the strategic plan. Everybody owns our guiding principle of Client First, and everybody in the company owns the metrics associated with Client First."

The bank's CEO runs an Enterprise Client First Forum once every other month to discuss best practices across all the lines of business. They ask themselves, "What do you see and how are you moving the needle?" This has led to creation of common processes and systems for B2B and B2C client groups, rather than separate endeavors. When they find commonalities among client groups they borrow ideas from each relevant line-of-business.

In another monthly forum, each line-of-business gets together with their support functions to review their voice-of-the-customer results and client experience improvement work underway, and to examine whether any priorities need to shift.

Collaboration Strengths
A huge benefit has been significant improvements in awareness of realities that internal counterparts face in their work. There is a greater appreciation of, and sensitivity to, fellow employees. And greater responsiveness in deliverables, hand-offs, and responses. When we realize additional assistance is needed somewhere, the support functions try to provide it.

Jeff's advice to others interested in customer experience collaboration: "I would suggest you advocate that . . .

  1. It starts at the CEO level as a priority so that it becomes embedded in your culture.
  2. The job of the customer experience management group is to facilitate, to advocate for the clients, to inform.
  3. The lines of business must feel that they are as accountable for that as everybody else. Then you have cultural movement, you have things that can be done, as opposed to viewing customer experience management as just part of marketing research.
  4. Make sure that you hire the right kind of customer experience management team. I look for people that are intellectually (a) Curious problem-solvers, (b) Collaborative, and (c) Courageous. The client isn't in the room all the time, and someone needs to be courageous enough to have their voice and say, 'We can make that choice, but I just want you to know my data insights are suggesting this is the impact you're going to have on the client if we do that.' It still may be not that person's decision to make, but someone's got to be courageous enough to put that on the table."

Transparency is very important to customers, and they sense when we are, and when we are not, collaborative with their best interests at heart. Collaboration is the only way to the to the core of recurring issues that cost a lot for your company, employees, and customers alike. Making cross-organizational collaboration a central part of your customer experience strategy may be one of the smartest moves you make.

Photo purchased under license subscription from Shutterstock.

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


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