customer experience capability buildingOne of the most hotly debated topics in the realm of consultancy is the tension between knowledge transfer and consultant dependency. There’s no one reason that the debate persists, but it’s abundantly clear that both client and consultant share accountability for keeping businesses in the project phase for much longer and more often than is necessary.

1) Customer Experience Knowledge Transfer

In-house Capability: The concept of knowledge transfer is noble and practical. It’s particularly useful for clients seeking to get approval for consultant engagement, as the ROI of consultancy can include management development along the lines of building in-house expertise.

Yet, in-house expertise itself is a limiting concept as it tends to favour a small group of individuals and doesn’t go far enough into the fabric of the organization to be sustainable.

Scope: We also tend to limit the engagement of consultants to CX projects pre-determined by the person who seeks the help, and that understandably colours the very nature of the engagement. When I started out in consulting, a colleague of mine gave me this advice: Be prepared to work on an entirely different problem than the one you were hired to help solve. He was right, but I didn’t understand quite what that meant to the knowledge transfer / dependency challenge.

Motivation: Having been on the receiving end of business development pitches, I also brought into the consultant role a deep suspicion of consultant motivation. That seemed the polar opposite of knowledge transfer and rather more self-serving on the part of the consultant. Not every consultant is motivated that way, but I have seen this behaviour from the big five consultancies and the single-shingle operator, for much the same underlying reason.

2) Customer Experience Capability-building

Think Bigger: For best results, think bigger than knowledge transfer. Think capability-building. At its core, capability-building is like knowledge transfer, but it’s much broader and resource-impacting than that. Capabilities are well-established in business strategy lexicon and make a great deal of sense to organizations that are building business models, or responding to competitive challenge, and everything in between.

Holistic Capability: If the concept works at the enterprise level, why not drive the same approach into the realm of customer experience management? For one thing, any enterprise-level strategy that is silent on the topic of customers is in deep doo-doo.

The teeny tiny problem is the focus of customer strategy tends toward markets and product forecasting (rather central to the pleasure of the enterprise) and is a bit thin on all of the components of the service associated with selling product A to geography B. That is effectively saying a miracle occurs across a whole bunch of functions expressly in place to make sure all product A’s get to every single customer in geography B, exactly as promised, on time, on budget and on quality.

Better to take the company’s current customer strategy and create a holistic one that takes account of all those functions across the company. Are you in the widget business? Then customers depend on you to hew to quality standards of manufacturing, distribution and delivery promises and price/value expectations. In a service industry? Customers expect you to do what you said you’d do, too, just with people and know-how.

Conclusion: Working out what capabilities are most important to your financial health and your customers is probably the most important decision a company can make. Not just once, but ongoing.

That is a pretty good, albeit basic, definition of strategy, and without going to the next level to define capabilities, it’s a safe bet you will have many more projects and consultant engagements that don’t quite deliver knowledge transfer or sustainable and evolvable customer experience success.

Written by Carol Borghesi, who led customer experience for over 30 years at TELUS in Canada, Bharti Airtel in India, and British Telecom in the UK.

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