Measuring and quantifying customer experiences, and other “hard factors” alone may not be sufficient to capitalize on the promise of the rapidly evolving CX field. Find out the role of “soft factors” in the brand power of perennial service and experience leaders, such as The Ritz-Carlton, USAA, Zappos, Nordstroms, Chick-fil-A, Navy Federal Credit Union and Southwest Airlines.
We’ve all heard the stories and read the stats – with well over 89% of companies expecting to compete on the basis of customer experiences (Gartner), the new battlefield for business has truly emerged.
While customer experience (CX) may be viewed as a discrete project or temporary “flavor of the day” in some organizations, many early CX initiatives have now evolved, matured and delivered enough tangible value to become permanent organizational units, with dedicated leadership, resources and boxes on the org chart.
Many of these new CX units now have aspirations to, not only collect data and measure customer feedback, but also to spearhead behavior change, transform ways of working, and advocate for customer-centricity as permanent members of the organizational fabric.
With the wide range of factors that ultimately determine the relevance, success or failure of new or more mature CX organizations alike, the journey to embed customer-centricity and delivering exceptional customer experiences into organizational and operational DNA shouldn’t be taken alone.
The soft side of the CX story.
So, “yes”, CX has arrived. This is particularly true for the highly-valued “hard factors” dimension of CX. These quantitative, technical factors include measurement of NPS, customer satisfaction, analytics, customer feedback systems and associated competencies.
However, as always, there’s another side to this story – in this case, the often overlooked “soft factors” that are essential to CX success and sustained value realization.
Soft factors, the more intangible, qualitative, people and organization-related factors, such as culture, leadership, employee engagement and knowledge, catalyze a sequence of causal relationships that ultimately influence customer experience, revenue, profit and other business outcomes.
CASES IN POINT:
Known for their superior performance relative to competitors, perennial service and experience leaders, such as The Ritz-Carlton, USAA, Zappos, Nordstrom, Chick-fil-A, Navy Federal Credit Union, and Southwest Airlines have built their considerable brand power, differentiation and reputations for customer-centricity on foundations of “soft factors”, the most notable of which are corporate cultures, leadership, and brand identities dedicated to service excellence, employee engagement and customer obsession. These leaders are undoubtedly strong in CX hard factors as well, but their core value propositions center on soft factors.
Why soft factors matter most.
While hard factors are obviously essential, compared to the soft factors of CX, they pale in significance when it comes to determining CX success. Why the disparity?
Hard factors are table stakes, rarely an area where true differentiation and enduring competitive advantages can be achieved from company to company. Conversely, soft factors create the underlying conditions for customer-centricity and competing on customer experiences, and are truly distinct to each organization.
Getting the soft factors of CX right can serve as a competitive point of departure, leading to the deeply differentiated experiences and the unique, hard-to-replicate service propositions that drive brand preference, loyalty and more meaningful emotional connections with customers.
The CX leadership challenge: Don’t pick a fight with HR!
Unfortunately, addressing or transforming soft factors can often spark internal resistance or otherwise be disruptive in many organizations. This is particularly true when it comes to culture and leadership – true lightning rods for controversy.
Most crucially, as important as they are to the success of CX organizations, soft factors are almost always the domain of the HR organization and the CHRO.
Despite this reality, as a critical success factor, chief customer officers, chief experience officers, and other CX, operational and customer-facing leaders must find a way to effectively embed soft factors into the CX strategy and customer-centricity success equation, and ultimately into organizational and operational DNA.
With this challenge, leaders in CX organizations might face several unfavorable options, among them: 1) encroaching on HR’s territory; 2) discounting the role of soft factors in CX success; 3) deferring CX soft factors entirely to HR; or perhaps 4) ignoring them altogether.
What leaders can do today.
The good news: there’s another way forward: make HR an intrinsic part of the CX success journey.
This means more than treating HR as a stakeholder to be informed and managed, this means integrating CX objectives into every stage of the talent lifecycle.
As a natural by-product of such an alliance, CX strategies and the soft factors that drive CX outcomes, becomes a shared language embedded into organizational beliefs and behaviors, from talent attraction, performance reviews through to career development and retention.
This principle is critical for existing and new CX organizations alike to build momentum and reach critical scale across the organization, while establishing the mechanisms needed for sustainment, continuous renewal, and institutional commitments to customer-centricity, service excellence culture, and winning on the basis of exceptional customer experiences.
Hear it from Horst.
“If the culture of your organization isn’t right, it will devour your best-laid plans.”
Horst Schulze, Author of “Excellence Wins” | Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.
CX leaders can get started by co-creating, with HR counterparts, an organizational and operational framework that explicitly defines key CX-HR objectives across every stage of the talent lifecycle:
Image Source: Opptiv
Don’t forget the soft stuff.
On the journey from temporary CX projects and initiatives to more permanent CX organizations, there’s no need to pick a fight with HR. While internal alliances with marketing, operations, customer service and other actors is a fairly common practice, aligning CX and HR objectives across the talent lifecycle to address the critical soft factors of CX holds the key to enduring organizational success, sustained business impact and enduring competitive advantage.
“CX Stuff That Really Works” is a blog series written from some of the interesting things that I see, hear and think about in my work at the intersection of service excellence culture and leadership, customer experience, employee engagement and related topics.
The “Hear it from Horst” feature provides words of wisdom from one of my business heroes, Horst Schulze, Author of “Excellence Wins”, Cofounder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and architect of that brand’s legendary service culture and brand.