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Creating Effective Leadership Sponsorship For Customer Experience Strategy
Mar 17, 2010
In preparation for a customer experience strategy launch, I sat down with the senior leader sponsoring the initiative ad briefed him on the need to demonstrate commitment. He in return stood up at the beginning of the meeting and announced "we are going to do this. If you disagree consider yourself fired. Any questions so far?" This is an extreme case of change management attempt. But variations of it exists in every customer experience effort.
The success of any customer strategy is predicated on the organization's capacity for change. Many strategies have failed because the strategies' owners didn't understand their organizations' capacity and reluctance to consider all things new. There are numerous motivations for such reluctance, including stubbornness, short-sightedness, self-denial, fear and even pride. We'll consider these and other motivations in greater detail in a moment, but let's pause to consider that matter of pride—a very powerful human emotion. Proposed change can be perceived from two different perspectives:
- We've failed. We've not done our job, and now we have to get our act together.
- We've done well, but now we're going to take our successes to the next level.
Remember that those affected by the change are human, with sensitivities and feelings. No matter how much logic you use in presenting change, if you hurt those affected, you will have incredible difficulty in establishing buy-in on the short term and in reversing hurt feelings on the long term. A core strategy in change management, therefore, is invoking the second of the two possible perspectives about change by recognizing and appreciating past achievements, even if you won't be retaining all of their principles moving forward. This will build a bridge of good will among employees called upon to execute the new initiative.
Even with this foundation, however, and even though transformation is not optional in this rapidly evolving world, not everyone will understand, accept, and/or cooperate with this challenge. In business, one thing never changes: Everyone loves change as long as they aren't the ones that have to change.
During a client engagement, I worked with an organization operating in a commoditized market and facing intense competition, heightened pricing pressures, and threats to its core value proposition. Given this environment, we expected at least a moderate sense urgency and cooperation. What we met instead were challenges and obstacles at every turn. Meetings were constantly delayed or canceled, and approvals were routed through a seemingly endless list of decision-makers. In one instance, a single customer questionnaire was subjected to more scrutiny than any document that I've ever seen in my entire career. Overnight, executives became linguists obsessed with ensuring that every word was reviewed and reviewed and reviewed again. The purpose of the survey—to engage customers and identify their challenges—was ignored in favor of grammatical niceties, to the pleasure of English professors worldwide but not to the executives staring at the bottom line. One executive even "cleverly" announced that he didn't have the time to review the questionnaire—enabling him to question the validity of the results later on (since he never had "the time" to review the questions before the survey was deployed).
That executive aside, most of the executives who resist change will posit that their seemingly endless list of excuses and delays results only from their strong interest to "get things right." I will argue that these executives simply don't want to face their predicament of having to face change.
As I said, some things never change.
The resistance you receive often takes the form of what we call the 7 Great "Escapes."
- "I don't believe in it."
- "Interesting idea, but I need to see another analysis and then design a series of focus groups before we revisit the concept."
- "Emotional engagement? You're kidding, right?"
- "It's not my job. Focus on the customer-facing people."
- "I don't know how to do it."
- "So you think I've been messing up the way I've always handled things?"
- The most common and dangerous "Escape"—"I'm already doing it."
- "I don't believe in it." Belief has nothing to do with it. It is about a business strategy to maximize revenues and profits.
- "Interesting idea, but I need to see another analysis and then design a series of focus groups before we revisit the concept." Delays lead to lost revenue.
- "Emotional engagement? You're kidding, right?" Customers are emotional. Branding is about emotions. We need to connect emotionally to create loyalty.
- "It's not my job. Focus on the customer-facing people." It is your job. Everyone is in the customer business. Your leadership sets the tone for the whole organization.
- "I don't know how to do it." That's a legitimate concern. We'll provide the support you need to succeed.
- "So you think I've been messing up the way I've always handled things?" Not at all, but now we have some exciting new opportunities to explore.
- The most common and dangerous "Escape"—"I'm already doing it." Your response to this assertion must be considerably more detailed. It's a problem you usually encounter when all indicators point to vigorous, companywide support for introducing customer experience strategies.
On my way to present results of customer experience diagnostics to a large UK based organization, the CEO caught me in the hallway and commented "I hear it is going to be a bloodbath out there." "Who told you that I asked" acting as I am surprised. "I heard the result are awful" the CEO concluded. She was in fact correct. He situation was dire that only 14% of her customers could articulate the value they received for their money. "Well, what if I will tell you that 54% of your customers are willing to spend 105 more with you this year?" I replied. "Really?" she asked surprised. "Yes" I replied. "Now lets discuss how to get this additional revenue from our existing customers" I concluded.
From a dreaded customer survey experience, we transform the approach to customers into a positive opportunity. By creating clear linkage between the customer experience strategy and the opportunity to deliver on their numbers this year the whole approach to the proposed strategy was transformed. By creating clear financial case, we brought the customer experience to the center stage and made it EVERYONE's job. Just as it is everyone's job to assist the company is making its numbers.
The biggest enemy of customer strategies, therefore, is not the lack of funds or resources. It's not lack of ability or expertise. It's refusal to admit current reality. Executives must fully understand what's wrong with the way they currently run their operation and what customer-centricity is all about. Before devising any sort of strategy, you must confront the "we're already doing it" attitude head on. Organizations must fully understand how their current way of doing business differs from interacting with customers in a customer-centric way.
An excerpt from the upcoming book Customer Experience Strategy—The Complete Guide From Innovation to Execution (4i, 2010).