What can customer experience leaders learn from the CIA?


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Lessons for Customer Experience Professionals from the Central Intelligence Agency

In his book, The Art of Intelligence, ex-CIA operative Henry Crumpton who also spent a year with the FBI, contrasted the cultures of the two organizations as he experienced them in 1999 as follows;

  1. The FBI valued oral reports much more than written ones. The CIA prized written reports that could be used for analysis.
    • Customer experience leaders benefit from both oral and written reports as a means of communication to all relevant functions and touch-point areas.
  2. The FBI did not have information systems that were accessible by different field offices. The CIA used high-speed information systems with huge data management and analysis and upgraded these systems constantly.
    • Customer experience leaders should engage in constant monitoring and have access to real time systems of data capture and dissemination.
  3. Another difference was the importance of reliable sources and the attitude toward them. Both placed a premium on good sources, but the FBI did not pursue them beyond a current investigation. CIA officers routinely compared notes and lessons learned (although specific sources were not revealed).
    • Customer experience leaders need reliable sources of information and an ability to learn from successes and mistakes.
  4. The FBI collected evidence for its own use, to prosecute a criminal. As a result the FBI lacked a customer service culture. The CIA collected intelligence for others and therefore had to focus on their customer’s needs.
    • Customer experience leaders themselves should be customer centric in their behaviors in relation to all stakeholders to have credibility within their organization.
  5. The FBI field offices acted as their own centers of authority. The CIA station had an incentive to report intelligence to CIA headquarters, because the users of intelligence were there and beyond, including the White House.
    • Customer experience leaders should disseminate relevant customer insights as widely as possible to influence the customer centricity of the entire organization.
  6. The FBI had both carrots and sticks when dealing with Congress and consequently had strong political influence and was well-connected. The CIA had minimal leverage on Congress.
    • Customer experience leaders must be well-connected and wield influence with the senior executive team and the Board to enable them to effectively link customer experience with corporate vision, mission and strategy. They need to be able to call in influential “heavy-weights” to support their strategies.
  7. FBI investigations were retrospective, tied to past or ongoing investigations. The CIA was attempting to identify future threats.
    • Customer experience leaders need to be future focused as a foundation for improving the current situation.
  8. The CIA had a global perspective and the FBI an America centric focus.
    • Customer experience leaders should have peripheral vision that takes in the current and future impact of wider external forces that will affect future customer experience.

No doubt things have changed in both organizations since 1999 and they did have well defined different missions, but leaving the specifics aside, which organizational culture is yours most like? How is your customer experience being impacted?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Christopher Brown
Chris Brown is the CEO of MarketCulture Strategies, the global leader in assessing the market-centricity of an organization and its degree of focus on customers, competitors and environmental conditions that impact business performance. MCS works closely with the C-Suite and other consulting groups to focus and adjust corporate vision and values around the right set of beliefs, behaviors and processes to engender more dynamic organizations, predictable growth, and customer lifetime value. In short we help leaders profit from increased customer focus.


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