As you could read in the previous articles in this cycle, customer advocacy requires questioning the way business is done at different levels.
What department is being referred to with the term ‘customer care’? What is the main goal of the front line of your organization? Is it to care for, show an essential form of commitment to and involvement with customers? In most cases the focus is on minimizing cost, on dealing with interactions as efficiently as possible from a company perspective.
Output, Outcome, Impact
The way interactions are handled is output driven. Maybe some consideration is given to the outcome, the customer experience. What impact does it have on your customer, and for that matter on your employees, as a human being?
Customer advocacy is a behavioral predisposition on the part of the customer to autonomously recommend your brand/company based on his overall and consistent value perception. Generating customer advocacy requires that everyone aligns their strategy and strategic goals and actions in the short, and long term, and on the goal of generating customer advocacy. It is probable that the ambition is addressing the impact level, but the strategic goals and actions are all addressing output (internal focus) and outcome (adding a bit of external focus) without making the impact on people (customers and employees) tangible and measurable. Where impact is concerned (emotional loyalty of customers driving advocacy), the white spots become painfully clear. The company fails to achieve its ambition, the impact, make it tangible, and measurable, and is therefore unsuccessful in translating its ambition into actions.
The struggle with old ways of doing
Organizations struggle with old ways of doing, based on ‘industrial paradigm’ thinking. You analyze the ‘as is’ condition, define the ‘go to’ condition; translate it into a roadmap from A to B and expects people to start running. There is no opportunity for people to internalize the goals, to create a platform that is meaningful, develop a shared language, no ‘room for play’; no space for people to feel what will make them and their contribution meaningful in the ‘go to’ condition. Deadlines need to be met, milestones need to be achieved; that is where the energy goes and where the focus is. Task- (and/or process-) instead of result-driven.
This approach is still feasible for, for instance, the implementation of a new IT system. Generating customer advocacy however requires being different, at an organizational, departmental and people level (see previous article in this cycle). Being different requires seeing differently, thinking differently and doing differently in order to be different. Changes need to be sustainable; experiences internally and externally need to be consistent. It is not processes or systems that are being changed. People are transformed, asked to change what they feel, think, say and do. The focus cannot only be on departmental goals, but also on a boundary- (silo-) crossing shared sense of purpose. Why is your company here? What would your customers miss, should your company cease to exist? What is each individual’s role in this ‘playing field’, every personal contribution? What does each individual get out of it as a human being? A focus not only on efficiency, but also on impact on people, at an emotional level; emotional perceptions of employees and customers.
Connecting people, triggering their ownership, their personal commitment and passion, instead of compliance to formal and informal goals and targets.
Points of failure or success
Interactions between people, between employees and customers, are not only the most important, but they are also the most vulnerable points of failure or success. Activating care as part of an organization’s purpose is a transformational process and requires multidisciplinary teams, including customer care (or service), marketing, sales, corporate communications, Human Resources, finance, and multi-level teams, involving people from ‘the work floor’ to the Executive Committee. That is how consistency and continuity between what is felt, said and done comes to life; between who you are, who you say you are and who people say you are (see previous article in this cycle).
A strong, shared sense of purpose, the WHY of your company
Interactions between people are the ‘tipping point’ for a strategy driven by the desire to generate customer advocacy, for customer centricity as a strategy. Customer care typically has the majority of these. Why do people choose to work in ‘customer care’, on the front line of your organization? Usually because they like people, they like to give service and make people happy. That is why they are hired.
Alas, as soon as they have gone through their customer care training, they are programmed, no longer there as the human beings they are, but as task-driven ‘human doing’s’, trained to follow procedures and protocols. They focus on the operational key performance indicators (KPIs) they are measured and managed by.
A shared strong sense of purpose (a shared dream; the why of your company; see example in figure below) invites and inspires people to dream, take ownership, be committed and passionate. It invites employees to connect their inner values, their moral wisdom, who they are as a human being, to your company and your brand. It asks them to enter into a meaningful dialogue with customers, generating customer experiences that customers at an emotional level perceive as valuable to them as a human being. It invites them to make your brand meaningful for themselves, and the customers they serve, taking into account the prerequisites that your organization sets, taking service to a game-changing level, creating emotional connections and commitment and generating advocacy, from them and your customers.
Translating the shared strong sense of purpose (a shared dream) into a framework of inspiring metaphors and icons creates a meaningful environment offering employees ‘freedom to be’ (freedom within a framework) and ‘room for play’. Thus, they can authentically -as human beings- connect with customers at an emotional level in every customer interaction. You must be careful; it does require consistency and continuity, ‘walking the talk’ at all levels.
What might ‘creating experiences that are meaningful for customers’ look like in a front-line environment? Think about the companies you deal with as a consumer. Undoubtedly, there are companies that you like to deal with and companies that you don’t like to deal with. Why is that? Could it be the way they make you feel? For instance, you don’t like the prospect of calling your energy provider, because you know these interactions always end up being a nuisance, leaving you feeling grumpy. Whereas interactions with other companies are always a pleasure, leaving you with a spark in your day. Emotional connections are created in both conditions. Which company would you stay with and which one would you exchange for another provider as soon possible? Which one would you recommend to friends and which one would you advise your friends not to use?
A Safe and Brave environment
In his book A Whole New Mind; why right brainers will rule the world, Daniel Pink describes the essence of being successful in business in the 21st century as follows: ‘Being able to do something that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, computers can’t do faster, and satisfies one of the non-material, transcendent desires of an abundant age. […] We have moved from a society of farmers, to a society of factory workers, to a society of knowledge workers, to a society of creators & empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers.’
Are customer-facing people creators and empathizers? Are they meaning makers for your customers? Sadly, many people working on the front line of organizations are still more deployed as a ‘human doing’, a ‘dehumanized robot’ managed at a task level. Which KPIs measure performance? Could it be service level, call duration (AHT), number of calls per hour, etc.? What would employees focus on under those circumstances? We all know the feeling that as a customer you don’t really have a connection with an employee and that you are guided through a process or script as quickly and efficiently as possible.
How much ‘space’ (freedom to be) would employees bring more to the job than the capacity to ‘pick up the phone’? In that scenario, how much ‘space’ (room for play) would employees feel to truly listen to and connect with customers?
‘Human beings’, there to be creators, empathizers and meaning makers, add value at an emotional level for the customers they serve. Their performance is measured in quantity and quality; the two are balanced. They are not managed at a task level, but at the balance between output, outcome and impact, not only doing things right, but also doing the right things in the perception of the customers they serve.
One of the biggest challenges is to create an environment that feels safe enough for people to (be brave and) start to transform from the human doing they always had to be, leaving 80 per cent of who they are, of their potential, at the doorstep, executing the tasks assigned to them, to bringing their full potential as human beings to the job. To start serving customers in ways that make them and the customers they serve happy as a human being. Creating experiences that are meaningful for customers. Creating an environment that is fulfilling for human beings, fun to work in and do business with.
Training, procedures and protocols give employees the skills to do the job at a functional level. But those are just the basics. To turn front line employees into an asset on the company balance sheet, requires an environment where employees are able to transcend the functional level. Where they can add their own story to your brand, products and services. Where employees can (dare to) go beyond logic and engage emotion and intuition. Where they bring their moral wisdom. Where they can bring humor to your business, products and services and create meaning from who they are as a ‘human being’, adding unique, personal and relevant meaning for the customers they serve, from who they are as a person, who the customer is as a person, and the emotional state the customer is in at that particular moment.
This creates an environment that makes people feel fulfilled, that is fun to work in, that makes you jump out of bed eager to get to work and as a customer almost makes you look for a reason to contact you.
Security and Trust
It requires a climate of security and trust. Makes (different) demands on culture and leadership. When people build trust and weaken their defenses, you see an increase in openness and honesty, more autonomy, assertiveness and self-direction, more vulnerability, intimacy and freedom, a release of roles and stereotypes, and an increase in mutual involvement, internally and externally.
I hear you thinking, what does all this mean for my organization’s operational and financial objectives? How do I make performance measurable in quantity and quality? How do I balance the two? How do I manage people on the balance between output, outcome and impact?
Keep an eye out for my next article (#5) in this cycle, where I will discuss the potential impact of care and customer advocacy on all this.
Images source: author