On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked by a CEO to “fix the customer service department” so the organization can improve its customer experience. The request sounds like this, “We’re getting too many service-related calls in our contact center and that’s giving us poor ratings on our surveys”. The problem most likely isn’t within the customer service department. It’s true that these departments need to be properly staffed with well-trained and professional representatives that have the authority and responsibility to achieve first call resolution. However, they typically aren’t the cause of the problem, they’re just trying to help the organization recover quickly from the service failure. In my opinion, customer service departments are downstream symptoms of upstream problems. Something failed elsewhere in the process that caused an issue in customer service. Perhaps it was a poorly worded marketing promotion, out-of-stock products in the warehouse, faulty online ordering technology or shipping delays. Whatever the reason, customer service is the solution not the problem.
Once I’ve had the chance to clear up the issue about where the problems are negatively impacting an organization’s customer experience, my next question is, “What’s your customer experience strategy?” The responses range from, “We don’t have one” to “We’re a customer-focused organization” to “We satisfy customers” to “We put the customer first”. While the last three are admirable statements, what do they mean to the customer and to the employees who serve those customers? They are too vague, lack tangibility and ultimately cannot effectively deliver better experiences. Therein lies the problem. Organizations needs customer experience strategies that are specific enough to guide the organization’s behaviors toward better experiences while avoiding the pitfalls of being too tactical so you can’t see the forest for the trees.
As CX practitioners, our role is to help create high performing customer experience organizations define strategies that are:
• Clear and aspirational.
• Easy to understand.
• Aligned to the overall vision, mission, and values of the organization
• Meaningful for every employee at every level in every department across every function within the organization.
• Inclusive of diverse customer and employee demographics and geographics.
• Using metrics to measure progress against the specified strategies and objectives.
• Integrated into the cultural fabric of the organization
• A mindset not a program.
It’s not easy creating an effective CX strategy! It takes time and the involvement of a cross-functional team of employees working together to envision what the customer experience will look like for the organization. Having the team seek additional customer and employee feedback is also imperative for an effective CX strategy. The result is a longer lasting, more effective strategy that goes well beyond, “We need to fix our customer service department”.
Once ill behaviors need to change iformulated and communicated to the organization, the hard part of executing the strategy begins in earnest. Important questions need to be asked:
• How wn support of the new strategy?
• Will functions within the organization need to create new processes for working together?
• Are there established ways for communicating progress and updating employees on key accomplishments in executing the strategy?
• Is achievement of the strategy tied to performance appraisals, compensation and incentives for leaders and front-line employees?
• Does the organization need to change its recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training processes?
• Will investments be necessary in technology and other tools to support employees as they implement the strategy?
• Are milestone achievements recognized and celebrated across the organization including quick wins that can garner momentum and accelerate the pace of change?
Establishing the strategy is difficult but doable. Executing against it requires everyone being able to see the forest for the trees. Understanding the “big picture” provides the operating framework to guide the actions employees take to support the customer. The key is not to start with counting the trees but understanding the breadth and depth of the forest which in this case is your customer experience strategy. It’s easy to get lost in the forest if you don’t know your way. A strong and effective CX strategy provides the guideposts necessary to achieve a new vision for the future that goes well beyond, “fixing the customer service department”. Don’t fear the task, embrace it!