Over the years, I’ve encountered many CX experts who struggled with convincing their senior leadership to invest more in customer experience. We all know that many company leaders say that the “customer comes first”, but at the end of the day, they are unfortunately often a lot more worried about tapping into new markets, sales, talent management or process optimalization. That’s understandable, but all of these things are part of a closed circle with the customer at the center and if that “heart” is not beating properly, all the rest will collapse too. I have to admit that I was surprised to read that – according to a Pega Systems study – only 35% of businesses have a C-level sponsor for CX and in 36% of companies, it’s led at the director level or below. It’s safe to say that we need to upgrade this number.
So how can you convince your leadership to invest more in CX?
That’s what I wanted to tackle in today’s piece. Basically, there are two ways to approach the challenge: one rational and one emotional.
I think that most people would instinctively gravitate towards the rational way: they assemble an Excel sheet with quantitative data to explain that if management invests in X and Y, the churn rate will decrease by X percent. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of that approach.
All too often, senior leaders are exposed to customers through PowerPoint presentations with statistical data, like “only 65% of our customers are happy”. But numbers never tell the whole story. They are obviously useful, but they also dehumanize your customers. They become a statistic, an almost abstract idea in the minds of leadership and that’s not how you involve them in investing in ways to make the customer happy.
I’m a much bigger fan of the more emotional way: take your senior leadership on a “safari”. What I mean by that is that you bring them really close to the end customer. The good news is that there are multiple methods to achieve this. You could organize breakfast seminars where top leaders sit together with real customers. You can take your leadership on events with customers. They could work in customer service for a day or just listen into phone calls.
If they’re the extreme type – like the fantastic Duncan Wardle who used to be the Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney for many years – they could even go “live” with their customers for a day. This is how he put it, when I interviewed him about his time at Disney a while ago for my podcast:
“Executives are often so far removed from their consumers that they don’t know what’s important to them. I would advise to make it mandatory for everybody in your organization who’s not in direct contact with the consumer to go spend a day per year in their living room. It will ground you in becoming a consumer centric organization.”
This might be more of a radical approach, which might not be for everyone, but the feeling behind is the same: if you want to convince senior management of the importance of customer centricity, then direct feedback is absolutely crucial. I call this proximity the “N=1 effect”.
I’m absolutely sure that all you have been at least once in this situation: you tell your CEO about how a certain dimension of the company is not really performing in the way that it should but you have a great idea on how to fix that. And you’re really excited about it. But then the CEO tells you that, although it’s a great idea, there are other priorities to be tackled. And then, about two months later, your CEO attends a barbecue and one of his neighbors tells him about something he dislikes about his company. Better yet, he shows it on his smartphone. And so the CEO, who really got to experience how terrible the interaction was, comes back to your office and then inquires about your idea on how to solve this disfunction.
So why did it not work the first time around? Well, you approached her or him with a rational explanation, maybe some statistics and this was not enough to really engage him. You need an “emotions” angle for that to work. It’s in fact the exact same dynamic as renowned “pitch doctor” Christoph Sollich, a frequent speaker at my company nexxworks’ Kickstart Innovation Bootcamp, talks about when he gives tips on delivering better pitches to investors. It may be a completely different environment, but the aim is the same: convincing someone who may be thinking and wanting very different things than you. This is how Sollich puts it:
“Aim for their heart, not their brain. Investors will only start caring if they have an emotional reaction to the pitch. Only when that happens, they will use their brain.”
And that’s exactly what happened at the barbecue: the malfunction became a priority because a customer, a neighbor actually talked about it and made the CEO “feel” that there was indeed a problem in need of solving. That’s the N=1 effect: reaching out to customers and learning to understand their “natural habitat” on an emotional level.
To conclude: if you want to make sure that your senior leadership is more into customers and understands the importance of investment in that aspect, take them on a safari to the customers so that they can literally hear the “oohs” and the “aahs” directly from their mouth. The “how” can be as discrete (listening in on customer service calls) or as radical as you want (Duncan’s ‘living’ with a customer), but that deep connection needs to be made. And you will see that your leadership’s commitment towards customer centricity will rapidly increase.