Too many customer experience strategy avoids addressing the realities of change. Management cannot have their cake and eat it.
So, you want to create a successful customer experience strategy? That makes sense as over 86% of buyers will pay more for a better experience, but only 1% feel that vendors consistently meet expectations. 1%! Based on that, we all need a customer experience strategy.
Organisations that lead in customer experience outperformed laggards on the S&P 500 index by nearly 80%, and according to the Temkin Group, a moderate improvement in customer experience has the potential to increase revenue by over 80% in three years.
Why then does most customer’s experience suck? How come 52% of marketers with customer experience responsibility expect their budgets to remain the same or decrease?
As Joe Biden puts it:
Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.Joe Biden
It seems contradictory because if you ask any senior management team whether they want to improve their customer experience they will say yes. They will claim it is a company priority because they recognise the business benefits it brings.
What then is going on?
Why Customer Experience Strategy Fails
In his book the Strategy and the Fat Smoker, David H. Maister talks about why people fail to lose weight or quit smoking. We know what we should do, but we lack the resolve to make it happen. He argues that the same is true for strategy.
We all know we should prioritise improving the customer experience, but we lack the will power to make it happen because the benefits of doing so are in the future, while the costs in manpower, investment and change are in the present.
Where then does this leave us? How do we create a customer experience strategy that actually results in an improved customer experience?
The Secret to a Successful Customer Experience Strategy
Every company knows that they should prioritise improving the customer experience, the secret to success is working out how to execute on that strategy.
Real strategy lies not in figuring out what to do, but in devising ways to ensure that, compared to others, we actually do more of what everybody knows they should do.David H. Maister
So how do we execute on our customer experience strategy? How do we find the resolve to make change happen? Well, in my experience this largely comes down to overcoming initiative fatigue.
The curse of initiative fatigue
I work with a lot of different organisations and almost all of them have multiple large scale initiatives happening simultaneously. For example, many organisations seem to be in a perpetual state of restructuring.
Management move from one new initative to the next, constantly seeking to grow or reinvigorate the company. From an employee perspective this can be exhausting. It feels like trying to diet and give up smoking at the same time.
Worst still, it leaves employees with the impression that management flit from one new initiative to the next. One minute they want to improve customer experience and the next they want to increase profitability or make cost savings.
Like the boy who cried wolf, management push some many different agendas that staff simply start ignoring them and focus on their day to day job.
If management are truly committed to implementing a successful customer experience strategy, they need to prove it to staff.
How to prove organisational commitment to customer experience
So how does management convince staff they are truly committed to improving the customer experience? Once again David H. Maister puts it beautifully.
If an organization’s leaders want their people to believe that a new strategy is being followed, they must establish credibility by proving that they are prepared to change themselves: how they act, measure, and reward.David H. Maister
That can manifest itself in a few ways. For a start, management need to accept that they cannot expect employees to improve customer experience at zero cost. It will have an impact on short term profitability as the company invests in making changes.
For example, I am reminded of the 2017 incident when staff forcibly removed a passenger from a United Airlines flight because of overbooking.
Management had previously expressed commitments to providing a great customer experience. However, it still ended up with a passenger having a horrendous experience because they measured staff on efficiency (turning the plane around quickly) rather than customer satisfaction. There was a disconnect between what management said and how they measured and rewarded employees.
Therefore, any strategy needs to also highlight the changes that need to be made in these areas and not pretend that the organisation can improve the customer experience as well as continuing to do everything else it has already been doing.
As we talk to management about improving the customer experience and the strategy of achieving that, we cannot let them avoid the cost. Employees need to know that management is going to support them through the process. As David writes:
If people are to make the right strategic decision in every location of the firm, in every operating group, and at every level, then they must absolutely trust that management will back them up and reward them (or at least not punish them) for acting in accordance with the declared strategy.David H. Maister
I have seen this first hand. I worked with an organisation whose management team were pushing digital transformation heavily. However, it was getting no traction in the organisation. Staff didn’t believe that they would be supported by management if they made changes.
In fact David suggests a rather radical approach to show managements commitment to the customer experience strategy.
I have sometimes asked firm leaders whether they are willing to announce to their people, right up front, that they will resign their roles if measurable progress is not made on the strategic plans they advocate.David H. Maister
Good luck suggesting such a path to your boss, but there is something in the principles. In essence, management needs to put its money where their mouth is. Unfortunately, all too often, the person tasked with creating a customer experience strategy is not necessarily actually in management.
Advice for those writing a customer experience strategy
If that is you, I would advise you to resist the temptation to support a strategy that suggests the path to a better customer experience simply requires a new initiative and some training. Instead present it for what it is, a complete realignment of the organisation around customer needs, rather than short term metrics such as quarterly revenue or business efficiency.
I realise that the advise I have given in this post can prove a better pill to swallow and that it is a hard one to present to management. That is where a good consultant can help. We can say things to management that an in-house employee could never say. So if you need help, please do get in touch.
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