Have you ever wondered whether there is really any hope for your organisation? Have you ever turned up one day wondering if you are the only person in the building who really gets it? Are you the only person who understands that the organisation needs to do something different to genuinely put its customers first? Have you had days when you can see some light at the end of the tunnel, only for it to be extinguished before you get anywhere near it?
If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, I can confidently confirm that you are very much NOT alone. In my time as a customer experience professional, I have often wondered if I am completely mad (some of you are very likely to say ‘yes’ to this). I have always thought that in my motivation to do the right things for customers, surely everyone else would agree with me. I have never been swayed by politics or selfish ambition – only to do what is right – but too often I have continually hit brick wall after brick wall.
As a customer experience professional, you become practised at understanding where your key stakeholders sit in terms of their support for your efforts. You know who the advocates are, and are even more clear as to who the detractors are. You learn to never give up and to continue to strive to do the right thing. What you also learn is that every organisation is completely different, and this means that their ability to change is different. Essentially, not every organisation is ready to become customer focussed – even if they think they are.
The ‘readier’ your organisation is (or the people are within it), the easier it will be to embed an all-encompassing customer experience improvement initiative that can and will be sustained. The less ‘ready’, the more difficult it will be. My experiences have led me to recognise that there are actually four different phases of readiness. That is why I have created the ‘customer readiness scale’ – a way of self-assessing how ready your organisation is to embark on its customer experience initiative. The customer readiness scale allows you to determine where either the whole organisation, or key stakeholders within it, sit in terms of readiness.
So, let’s have a look in more detail at the different phases of readiness:
1. ACKNOWLEDGE – acknowledgement that the existing state of customer experience is unacceptable and requires improvement
There are too many organisations who are not prepared to admit there is a problem. These organisations sit in this first phase of readiness. There are many reasons that could be driving this behaviour. It does not mean it is impossible to introduce a customer experience initiative/programme, but it makes it VERY difficult. You may need to operate very tactically, doing whatever it takes to PROVE that there is a problem, to get ‘heads out of the sand’ so to speak! Many businesses that have hit financial difficulties in recent times may have had individuals who were in this phase of readiness.
2. DIAGNOSE – agreement to both identify and accept what and where problems exist in the customer experience
Once there is acknowledgement, you are then able to determine exactly what is causing the problem. This phase of readiness combines both the identification of the problem AND the acceptance of it – i.e. your leaders saying something along the lines of ‘yes I agree that this is the cause of the problem and something needs to be done about it’! Do not underestimate how common it is for people to become defensive at this stage – readiness here will require honesty and openness to the causes of the problem.
3. ACTION – agreement to implement a series of appropriate actions to address the problems identified in the diagnosis phase
When your organisation is ready to do something about the causes of customer dissatisfaction – you are doing well. That means that there has been acknowledgement of the problem, and identification of the things that need to be addressed. HOWEVER – this is the phase of readiness where the ‘proof is in the pudding’. I have had many situations where I have successfully got past phase 2 – only for the decision makers to ‘change their minds’ when I have proposed the actions that should/must be taken. Phase 3 is the real test of readiness – it is only when your organisation is really ready to take action that you know your customer experience efforts are on the right track.
4. IMPROVE – implementation of a programme of improvement to enable the organisation to continuously meet the changing needs of customers
Starting to act is great, but it is the sustainability of the action and subsequent improvements that are key to a long-lasting focus on customer experience. The 4th phase of readiness is IMPROVE – the phase that sees your organisation embedding a continuous customer experience improvement programme in its very fabric. This is the enigma or nirvana – the phase to get to that ensures meeting and exceeding customer needs becomes just a way of life. It means that the mechanisms are in place to ensure that whatever needs to be done to improve the customer experience will be forever.
Improving the customer experience is not easy – just ask any committed customer experience professional. Understanding how ready (or not) your business is to accept the change needed to become more customer focussed WILL help you plan your customer experience programme more effectively. There is no point creating a detailed customer experience strategy if the board of directors do not think they actually have a problem in the first place! Now you know how to determine the state of readiness of your organisation, you can start or continue to plan to address the issues.
Will the customer experience readiness scale stop you from having to bang your head against a brick wall? Regrettably it will not. It will help you to have clarity as to why you might be hitting the wall in the first place though!!
Images Sourced From: Pixabay
These are important foundation steps to build more enterprise customer focus. To become truly customer-centric, even stakeholder-centric, however, organizations would be well-advised to do more. To wit:
A. Create human emotions and memories in transactions and relationships
Today, delivery of functional and tangible elements of value, even at superior levels, are little more than experience table stakes. We often speak of the Daniel Kahneman “peak-end rule”, where subconscious positive and negative experience emotions yield the memories which drive downstream customer behavior. This psychologically-based approach is a critical differentiator for companies to successfully bringing the human touch to transactions and relationships.
A couple of years ago, Bridget Duffy, MD, who is the Chief Medical Officer of Vocera Communications, wrote an insightful CustomerThink blog post about how emotional connections, coming out of a culture of humanity, can drive customer loyalty behavior and company growth. From my perspective, the value of creating positive emotions can’t be stated much better than she did:
Customers choose service providers based on personal experiences, trusted relationships and valued recommendations. To understand customer needs and expectations, organizations must first map the gaps in efficiency plus empathy. Market leaders must provide services and use technologies that restore empathy to the customer experience.
B. Create human connections between employee ambassadors and customers
Smart companies operate as “real people”, with employees working to provide value to customers. In humanistic organizations, employees at all levels, and in all functions, understand how their work and actions impact customer perception of experiences. If employee ambassadorship is an extension of the company’s customer-related DNA, then it is employees who embody accueil.
It is not nearly enough for employees to be engaged. Humanistic experience is achieved when employees are armed and enabled to deliver on the brand promise. The technology and tools can’t replace real-time passion, or genuine commitment to the organization, brand and customers. It is employees who are the real, flexible experience engineers. As needed, they can treat each customer differently, and even the same customer differently, if the experience context is different (something I’ve labeled ‘divisibility’, which is also somewhat data-dependent).
It’s important to point out that executing in all these areas requires enterprise and functional leadership that understands what human-centricity means in customer relationships and overall perceived experience value. As Dr. Duffy stated in her blog, companies “… must focus on building connections and relationships into all aspects of the organization – from executive leadership to frontline staff – so that from the first impression to the last, people feel a connection. Going beyond customer service to creating a real emotional connection to a product, service or company will drive market differentiation, customer loyalty and growth.”
Great post Ian, very insightful as always.
Often companies think of the customer experience as a one-off project or problem to be solved. This results in uncoordinated project work that is not supported by stakeholders as it is not given context by the leadership.
Companies need to decide whether they are going to be deliberate about competing on delivering a unique experience or not. Once leadership is onboard and understands how they and their companies will win with this strategy anything is possible….
Keep up the good fight!