How often have we found ourselves witnessing a company’s leadership suddenly experience the revelation that their competitors, who have adopted the best practices of Customer Experience Management, are showing impressive positive returns and a clear competitive advantage? And, how often has that realization and fear-of-missing-out resulted in an impulsive appointment to a newly-created Director of Customer Experience (CX) position, dropped on an individual who has little clue as what this means, but is expected to ramp up a CX program in a matter of days? It is a bit like an orchestra leader realizing they need a principal Clarinet because every other orchestra has one, and recruiting a business manager to play a Mozart concerto with only a few days of practice. The likelihood of success over the short-term at least is remote. Proficiency takes time.
Customer Experience has evolved over many years to become a fundamental operating construct for businesses that see the imperative of sustained customer relationships. During this time, CX has also transformed into other variations, responsibilities, and titles, but at baseline, Customer Experience is often considered to be the collection of personal and emotional assessments of a brand’s products, services, activities, etc., and how these collectively compare to an expectation (or goal) that may be based upon a recent similar experience or a prior accumulation of comparable experiences. While the term “Customer Experience”, in some instances, has become overused and universally applied to any role that involves customer interaction, its fundamental core is an essential and simple understanding: customers have needs and money, you have a product and/or service, and you want to make a trade. This transaction establishes a connection, underpinned by the personal belief and expectation of mutual satisfaction. It is incumbent, therefore, upon the product/service provider to clearly recognize the dynamics required to design, manage, and nurture an evolving customer experience commitment.
However, proficiency and full adoption of a CX program to manage customer relationships does not happen overnight. Much like a musician whose ambitions are to become that principal Clarinet in the orchestra, she didn’t start in 3rd grade by picking up a Clarinet and playing Mozart. Rather she learned the rudiments from early on. She played scales, notes, rests – over and over again. She played “Mary had a Little Lamb” hundreds of times, gradually building skills and capability over the years and learning increasingly more complex pieces. She learned from teachers, mentors, and others who had traveled along her intended path, and over time, as the old adage says, ‘perseverance pays off.’
So how should a business approach the building of a CX program? Very much the same way. As any new CX leader knows, they must absorb the knowledge from others who are proficient and experienced; to learn the basics, build upon them, and develop his/her own proficiency and knowledge base. During this process, they will recognize the need to direct the fundamental characteristics of a CX program:
- Experience management for customers (clients, patients, constituents, etc.) and employees is a cultural commitment. It must evolve to become a piece of the company fabric – driven by each layer of management who are responsible for leading a consistent and sustainable strategy.
- Everyone “touches” the customer. Even though they may never have direct customer interaction, CX affects everyone in a company – not just the customer-facing front line. The Customer’s experience begins as a part of the employees’ experience.
- Customer Experience MUST be sustainably driven from the top-down. Without a firm commitment from the top of the house to prioritize CX as a core company value, its impact is unlikely to be fully realized or attained.
- The entire company must view a customer’s experience as if it were their own. Always.
Once the commitment to CX is instituted, the appointed CX leader must persevere, working to establish cultural customer-focused norms, while encountering obstacles, like sales’ objections to survey results or manufacturing’s dismissal of quality ratings. Some executives will diminish the importance of CX beneath quarterly numbers, denying the reality that customer ratings are often a leading indicator of quality, performance, or profitability issues. The executive team may naively view a CX program as simply a competitive requirement, needed to overcome that fear-of-missing-out while hyping their CX commitment as vacant a marketing message.
While the tasks of aligning all entities, overcoming challenges, developing standardized messaging, designing and managing the customer assessment programs, securing and sustaining management commitment, and implementing all the start-up and on-going operations are daunting, perseverance is essential. The strong CX leader will stay the course to achieve the goals, while relying on rudimentary skills, leadership, and maturity in managing a complex program…much like the developmental path needed to becoming the principal clarinet in the orchestra.
Customer Experience is an ever-changing art and science. Despite its complexities and, indeed, challenges to design, implement, maintain, and attain full success, it is widely considered an essential component of a customer-focused business plan. It requires extraordinary perseverance, but the rewards are plenty.
Peter Swaim – V.P. Marketing – HorizonCX, LLC. | September 9, 2020