Among the many challenges customer experience (CX) professionals face, often the most difficult is how to engage cross-functional and multi-level support. Beyond support for specific projects, there is a crucial need for ongoing sponsorship of the CX program, even as new areas of focus develop for the organization.
Throughout my career I’ve had the good fortune of meeting with groups of CX professionals around the globe. I’ve learned that each CX professional has unique goals and challenges. Some are B2B; others are B2C. Some are managed out of the Marketing team; others report directly to the CEO.
With all these differences, though, the similarities of CX professionals are even more striking. They are dedicated to working cross-functionally, bringing customer understanding, and offering tools to improve the customer experience.
How do CX Professionals do this? It’s through what they think, say, and do.
What CX Professionals Think
1. Influence is more valuable than control.
Control is often defined as the absolute ability to determine the exact results we want under all circumstances. This seems like something that would make our lives easier for sure! We could wave our wands and do what we think is necessary to improve the customer experience and organizational culture.
What we have instead of control is the power to influence. Not the ability to move every obstacle or change every behavior but the ability to move or change some of them. We can’t control the processes of every functional area, but we can provide customer feedback and visual depictions of the customer experience to influence change. We can’t determine the outcome of an initiative, but we can guide leaders to a successful and improved outcome.
One of the best recommendations I received was to read the book Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion (Cialdini, 2007). As the classic book on persuasion, it explains the psychology of why people say yes and how to apply these understandings. There are six universal principles described and each is steeped in research. At the end of each chapter, the reader is instructed on how to apply these principles to influence behavior and achieve success in their efforts. The CX professional can easily use these techniques to gain project resources, influence members of project groups, and, most importantly, drive the success of the CX team.
2. CX is directly linked to an organization’s success.
Research has long established the link between the customer experience and measurable financial impact. CX professionals know this link is strong but, in some organizations, senior executives are skeptical about the impact that CX has on customer spend, customer churn, and cost of service. It may be tempting to forge ahead hoping that, with a few more project wins, these executives will see the connection. But customer experience requires funding and funding requires a strong business case and executive support now – not later.
The best way to ensure that all senior executives share the belief is to build Return on Investment (ROI) into each project. While there are variables in determining ROI that can make it challenging, finding a formula that works and is accepted as valid by senior executives is essential. Before a CX professional submits their first ROI calculation, though, they work with the finance team to determine that the formula and the data are considered valid for the calculation. Once the formula is validated, the calculation becomes straightforward.
3. When it comes to fixing customer issues, the focus is on correcting the root cause rather than just the symptoms.
Often in organizations, the problem is solved where it is found. If customer service suddenly has longer resolution times and lower satisfaction, the customer service director is tasked with solving the problem. And, since it’s easier to solve an issue within one’s area of responsibility, the director asks for more staff members so the issues can be solved faster. Problem solved? Not really. Just tamped down – for now.
Solving the problem before it happens is in the DNA of the CX professional. A CX professional will provide tools to look upstream and data to establish why the problem is happening. Was a new product recently released? Did the customer service team receive adequate training? Is the product user experience intuitive or does the customer require assistance to make changes? If so, the issue is best resolved in an upstream functional area such as product development or internal training.
The book Upstream (Heath, 2020) explains the psychological forces that lead people to solve downstream issues which can leave us oblivious to the real issues facing an organization. Heath also provides practical advice and case studies to the reader on how to improve problem-solving. There are many customer case studies, making it easy to transfer the research to a CX practice.
What CX Professionals Say
CX professionals will tackle issues in every part of the organization. No functional area is off-limits. The reason is that when it comes to customer satisfaction and loyalty, virtually every department is either customer-facing or customer-impacting. For example, the back-office team responsible for the billing process may not be directly communicating with customers but they impact customer satisfaction with decisions about billing forms, options for receiving bills, etc. According to a recent survey by Fiserv, 69 percent of consumers said multiple bill payment options would have a positive effect on their satisfaction. So, when a CX team is asked to solve an issue or design a customer-impacting process, they will agree to assist!
5. Whatever the CX professional says, it’s framed in positivity.
Another version of saying yes, CX professionals believe that the most effective way to get a desired behavior is to emphasize what you want people to do. For example, a senior executive may not be modeling customer-centric behavior for his team when she says that customers are always complaining. Rather than correcting her, I try to say, “Yes, and isn’t that feedback a true gift for us? It helps us to understand customers and learn how to serve them better and develop their loyalty!”
What CX Professionals Do
6. Build partnerships and share the credit.
According to a recent Forbes insights survey, 41% of CX leaders say that the primary challenge with improving CX is the lack of shared senior management vision. Some leaders seem to think their status is based on looking better than others around them. However, smart leaders realize their power comes from making others around them successful. CX professionals are experts in building strong partnerships and collaborating towards the best outcome for customers and the business. They work to align senior leadership around customer needs and when the solution is found, share the success with all involved.
And the building of partnerships doesn’t stop with just internal groups. Customers are brought into the process to add perspective to the problem to be solved and co-create the best solution.
7. Continuously learn.
Many CX professionals have not completed a traditional, formal education in customer experience. Although these programs are growing in number, more often CX professionals “grow” into the role through backgrounds in customer service, operations, or several other areas. Training becomes very important to the CX professional to learn from peers and experts.
Continuous learning can be done through several sources such as this site, CustomerThink, the world’s largest community dedicated to customer-centric business strategy. For those who prefer learning through reading books, it just takes a quick Google search for some great reading lists – here’s a great starter list. And, of course, there are online courses and webinars.
CX professionals are excited to demonstrate their learnings through certification. Certification is an independent measure of whether the individual can apply what he has learned on a peer-developed exam designed to measure CX knowledge. A true professional certification must include work experience in the application process, a testing process that is independent of the classroom process, and ongoing practical training to maintain the certified status. The Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) maintains just this type of certification (Certified Customer Experience Professional – CCXP) for professionals with a minimum of three years of experience. In addition to the certification process, the CXPA has established the CXPA Recognized Training Provider program to ensure that CX professionals can easily find training that is taught by individuals with CX experience; have a track record of teaching success; and base their coursework on industry-accepted frameworks.
Implementation of all seven of these practices happens over time. But, for most CX professionals, moving from what we are thinking to the active acts of saying and doing is second nature. Ultimately, we are all here for our customers and employees and by believing in our impact and working each day to influence others, the CX profession will continue to grow and positively influence business success.