by HorizonCX Advisory Board member Jerry Seufert and HorizonCX Founder and Principal Karl Sharicz

Over the years in many quarters, it has become an article of faith that to do ‘good CX’ a CX leader needs to build a permanent autonomous CX department complete with headcount, structure, budget, and an ongoing, unending mission statement all its own.  Many articles, blogs, consulting hours, and attention have been invested with this in mind.

Yet does the evidence support this?  I admit to not having seen a serious evidence-driven study of the pros and cons, but through my work, I increasingly doubt the premise and offer some thought starters to consider.

  1. A permanent autonomous CX department immediately requires answering the dreaded ROI question at least annually, for which the community has yet to widely and satisfactorily answer.
  2. A permanent autonomous CX department becomes a competition for resources with the operating departments which fosters antagonism and lack of trust among department leaders whereas good CX requires cooperation and trust.
  3. A permanent autonomous CX department creates competition for access to clients with the operating departments – account management, customer service/success, etc. — already charged and accountable for customer deliverables and outcomes.
  4. A permanent autonomous CX department is a high-profile reduction target when finances tighten. And whether fully disbanded or simply redeployed across the organization it rarely gets reestablished as an integral unit.
  5. Once ended, the mission of a permanent, autonomous CX department is often forgotten. The CX program literally ‘walks out the door’ along with the CX team.
  6. A permanent autonomous CX department becomes ‘owned’ by an executive which can create jealousy among the leadership team when absolute trust is needed.
  7. A permanent autonomous CX department requires administration and supervision, distracting from CX work.
  8. A permanent autonomous CX department often gets tasked with enterprise-wide metrics such as NPS yet no supervisory oversight, which sets up tension and conflict.
  9. As an effective organizational influencer, you are more likely to survive restructuring and layoffs than if you must defend a department AND be a welcome source of continuity for the CX movement.

Instead of building a permanent autonomous CX department, think about what you can accomplish by influence. Work with operating leaders as a visionary, coach, facilitator, and sympathetic listener.  Transfer your CX knowledge without reservation and equip operating leaders with CX skills so they can do great CX on their own.

There’s no better example of this than to look back at privately held security industry technology provider, Pelco, led by then-CEO Dave McDonald. Dave was a legend in the security industry and did many things that positively changed the industry. But more than that, he was the visionary and leader of the company in terms of customer service and customer experience.

Dave purchased Pelco in 1987 and set out to do something different for security manufacturers: deliver quality products on the date they were committed to shipping. Security dealers and systems integrators often didn’t know when to expect their security cameras, so they were challenged to meet schedules for their customers. Additionally, if the product wasn’t in stock, the assembly line schedules were modified to meet customer-specific orders that day. By improving manufacturing and logistics, Pelco ensured its customers knew they would receive their products on time.

Pelco changed the customer experience. All calls to Pelco were answered by live employees, not an answering system. That person was accountable for making sure if they couldn’t resolve the request, they forwarded the caller to someone who could handle it, and not voicemail. That process went a step further in making it clear that all employees would meet each customer request to the satisfaction of the client. Mr. McDonald instructed all employees in their orientation classes that they were empowered to deliver a result that would delight the customer. No one would ever be in trouble for doing what the customer requested. Pelco called it “Fanatical Customer Service.”

Pelco set a new path for post-sale support. Customer service engineers handled all support calls. Free repairs were turned around in 24 hours! One client complained that it took two days for their repair turnaround, but they had sent a competitor’s camera. Pelco technicians got the parts and completed the fix – and it was still free.

Education on technology and Pelco products was free to all customers. Once the student got to the training location, Pelco would take care of food, lodging, and instruction. And for those that couldn’t make it to a local office, Pelco Mobile Showcases came to them. Thousands of people in security were educated by Pelco trainers and technicians.

All Pelco employees had an opportunity to improve the company, its products, and its services through the Bright Ideas Program. Feeling so close to the company, the workers showed their passion every day to customers who called or came to the Pelco campus for training, tours, and meetings. Associates were rewarded with Pelco Bucks for productivity, quality, and meeting department goals. This “currency” could be used to purchase goods from the gift gallery for themselves, family, and friends. And the benefits for all 2,500 employees were significant. The company grew into a billion-dollar business and was sold to a French Company, in 2007 through further transfers and was finally acquired by Motorola in 2020. Mr. McDonald passed away in January of 2019.

In 2023, you owe it to your organization – and yourself – to at least consider whether building a permanent autonomous CX department is right in all organizations, always, and in perpetuity. The above story is a shining example of what can be accomplished without a department or designated figurehead for all things CX. With strong and committed servant leaders such as Dave McDonald, CX can indeed be etched within the DNA of an organization.

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Karl Sharicz – Founder, CEO – HorizonCX, LLC. | March 2023

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