What To Do When the CEO Says “No” to Your CX Business Case


Share on LinkedIn

Customer experience requires funding and funding requires a strong business case. So how do you draw a direct connection between your efforts and the business resources needed to sustain them?

Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or a relative newcomer, just beginning a new program, or refining the next level of organizational improvement, chances are that you’ve been asked to demonstrate the business impact of the customer experience program.

First you spent a lot of time masterfully outlining how industry-leading customer satisfaction would be achieved by drawing on the latest research and best practices. This impressive plan will ensure the support of the executive team, you told yourself.

After all, asking for funding is merely a formality, right? Who wouldn’t support an investment in happier and more loyal customers? And your executive sponsor supports your ideas about the importance of building a customer-centric culture—until now. Your plan came back with some encouraging comments, but without the requested funding.

When I talk with other CX practitioners about challenges they are facing, the above scenario is not unusual. In fact, I experienced this early in my career and learned some basics that I still use today.

I had just been asked to lead my first customer experience program and was familiar with putting together a business case. When I managed customer service, I went through the same exercise and knew that I would probably receive 90-95% of requested funding. So, when I received no funding for the CX program, I was mystified and decided to find out why.

My first stop was my direct manager, the CEO. I asked him a couple of questions that focused on whether the business case was complete enough. He assured me that it was technically well-written but that it was competing with a lot of other requests from other departments. So far, I had not learned anything new. But, then, he said something that captured my attention. He said that other proposals included a shorter term return on investment. While my business case showed the benefits of increased customer satisfaction over the next 3 years, other plans demonstrated ROI in a much shorter time frame.

My next stop was the chief financial officer. Already aware that the financial section needed to include not only long-term, but also short-term benefits, I asked him if there was anything else that led to the decision not to fund the program. He said that while he supported an increase in customer satisfaction, he didn’t understand the difference between customer experience and customer service. Wasn’t he already funding customer service, and wasn’t that enough to increase customer satisfaction?

The alarm bells went off in my head and I realized that I had not spent enough time educating each member of the executive team about the unique value an enterprise customer experience program delivers.

I learned so much from those two meetings that I set up meetings with each member of the executive team and received valuable feedback that influenced how I construct a business case. We all know that a strong business case is, and should be, considered mandatory. You can find a lot of information online about which sections to include, but I found that, besides the standard sections on financial metrics, goals and milestones, there is much more that goes into writing a plan that secures funding for customer experience.

So how do you do it? By asking a few pivotal questions and remembering several key points, you can build a business case that is effective and convincing. Just follow the steps below:

Build an Effective Business Case

  • Pinpoint the pain. Do your proposed efforts complement the priorities of the business? The CEO or senior executives who ultimately provide you with funding have their own worries, which you must keep in mind. Before presenting any CX initiatives, ask yourself some basic questions. What’s keeping my CEO and board up at night? Are the initiatives I’m proposing relevant, and if not overtly so, can I effectively show a direct correlation? In the absence of this relevancy, you will lose busy executives’ attention.
  • Include the Right Information. Corporate leaders receive a steady stream of proposals, but you can stand out from the crowd by including the right information in an easily digestible format. Include, in clear terms, the problem the CX initiative aims to address, the benefits and/or results it will deliver, the resources required, and the return on investment (ROI) expected. Short- and long-term ROI is key. The business case should also show why the CX initiative is needed now. Senior executives can be tempted to postpone efforts that lack an element of urgency.
  • Be prepared to measure your effectiveness. You probably won’t have metrics to draw on at the start, but be prepared to let executives know in advance what metrics you plan to use, including some that can be tracked long term, while also explaining why having them will be a benefit in and of itself. Whenever possible, also note why and how CSAT correlates to business success.
  • Don’t overpromise. The setting of unrealistic expectations can quickly poison even the best CX plans and it’s one of the most common mistakes CX practitioners make. Executives need to be reminded that it took years to get to the current state, and you can’t undo longstanding systems, processes or an established company culture overnight.
  • If you are turned down, ask why, then ask why again. Executives understandably often give the most expedient answer. For example, “it’s not in the budget” doesn’t necessarily mean funding is lacking. Often times it’s simply the easiest way to say no without giving details. You need to find out what really is behind their decision. The real answer might be something you can help address with alternative CX initiatives and plans.

About Those Metrics

When considering your business case, executives will naturally ask about the metrics you plan to use to gauge your effectiveness. Everyone measures a version of CSAT (OSAT, NPS, etc.), or at least they should, but here are some additional metrics you might want to consider in order to show your CEO the true value of a CX program.

• Customer Churn: Unless it’s intentional, losing customers is never a good sign.
• Higher Sales per Interaction: This is a great indication that CX is on track.
• Fewer Customer Support Interactions: Be aware that this measurement (tied into over promising) is a reflection not only of CX, but also the products and services offered.
• Number of New Customers Identified and Added to References: This is a valuable metric for many executives, as growth is nearly always top-of-mind for corporate boards.
• Shorter Sales Cycles: Figures that demonstrate a shorter sales cycle are great because they demonstrate in a very direct fashion how CX impacts revenue generation—shorter sales cycles mean more sales.

My first lesson was a tough one. I didn’t receive any funding that first year but the work still had to be done to mature the program and demonstrate its value. The following year my learning points were put into action and I developed a compelling business case. I’d like to say that I received 100% of requested funding but it was significantly less. It took about 4 years before the funding was at the level that I had originally requested.

Some might say that making appointments with each executive to educate and inform, developing a meticulous business plan with both short and long term benefits – all while building an enterprise wide customer experience program – is more than other, more traditional areas of the business would be required to do.

But consider that, for many organizations, customer experience is a new initiative. While head-nodding occurs when the benefits of customer loyalty are discussed, only well understood and supported programs receive funding.

The good news is that if you keep these straightforward ideas in mind, your business plan will secure the required resources.

Nancy Porte
Nancy Porte is the Vice-Chair for the Board of Directors of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). Previously, as Vice President of Global Customer Experience for Verint and with a background in operations management, her passion is developing differentiated customer experiences through cross-functional collaboration and employee engagement. She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and frequent speaker at industry conferences.


  1. Hi Nancy

    A difficult position all of us who have been in management have faced at one time or another. But there is a better way than just submitting a business case and hoping for the best.

    More than a decade ago I ran CRM for Toyota Financial Services in Germany. All programmes, projects and campaigns at Toyota are developed using the fabled ‘A3 Reports’ (part of the Hoshin Kanri Management used by many Japanese companies). The A3 Report is a single sheet of A3 paper that captures all aspects of whatever it is you want to do. The A3 Report by itself isn’t the secret of its success though, but the Nemawashi process used to develop it.

    Nemawashi develops the A3 Report step-by-step by iteratively walking it around the business to all those who have supporting data, who you will need to collaborate with to get it done and who will need to provide resources to do so. Through several rounds of one-on-one discussions with colleagues you gradually complete the A3 Report, build the collaboration required to implement it and in effect, get permission to get started.

    The A3 Report captures the business case as well, but it is only one part of the bigger picture; a picture that you iteratively develop with your colleagues rather than present to them on a plate.

    I learned many valuable lessons at Toyota. The power of the A3 Report and Nemawashi is one of the most valuable of them, one that I use on an almost daily basis.

    Further Reading
    John Shook, ‘Toyota’s Secret; The A3 Report’, Sloan Management Review

    Jon Miller, ‘The Art of Nemawashi’, Gemba Panta Rei

    Feel free to contact me directly if you need more information about the A3 Report and Nemawashi.

    Graham Hill

  2. Graham – thank you very much for sharing the information and resources! Sounds like Toyota was a great learning environment – and it’s another confirmation that there is no substitute for collaboration!

  3. Unfortunately for those in charge of customer experience management, it does take thorough education of stakeholders right from the start. And it goes beyond winning the CEO’s approval as any CXM initiative will eventually require close-knit collaboration across departmental borders, especially at the stage where consolidated corrective actions are necessary to change CX for the better. For this, the CEO’s top-down endorsement will signal ‘a call to arms’ for other CX-responsible employees who may be at first reluctant to jump in. In this guide on dealing with negative CSAT, we’ve brought up more points for consideration: https://www.scnsoft.com/blog/when-your-customer-is-upset

  4. Darya – thanks for sharing your expertise! It is so true that the CX efforts require that wide-based collaboration and, in many cases, can determine the level of success for CX programs.

  5. Great post, Nancy! I am currently in a situation where I need to create my first business case and your breakdown of how to build an effective one has really helped me out. Thanks again!


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here