A company is a team, funded by customers. A company is expected by customers to operate as “one”. Nobody likes to hear evidence that the company is not a real team: “That’s handled by X” or “We don’t have access to Y”. And even worse, recurrence of an issue that customers have already voiced is evidence of disrespect of their precious time and funding.
This is why cross-functional collaboration in acting on voice-of-the-customer (VoC) is paramount to achieving customer experience ROI (CX ROI). Company-wide employee engagement in customer experience improvement is an absolute must!
Employee Engagement Urgency
Should you wait to improve customer experience (CX) cross-functionally? No! Your initial pilot of anything you start off with in managing CX should include employee engagement. Otherwise, it will be a long time before you can claim sustainable business results from CX management. Widespread and early employee engagement in systematic CX improvement has these advantages:
- Build goodwill with customers, especially those who have graciously provided feedback to you.
- Fast-track cost reductions as you minimize wasted time, resources, and energy in things that irk customers.
- Build employee morale as your company’s alignment with customers becomes more apparent.
- Reap ROI from investments in VoC, CRM, customer care, etc.
Systematic CX improvement efforts are essential to achieving CX excellence that customers reward. A good analogy is the desire to look great in your swimming suit: you can collect data about how others view you now, you can advertise how you want to be perceived, and you can follow-up with individuals who give you feedback — but ultimately, you’ll have to do the actual work required to look great in your swimming suit. A pill or a quick diet or occasional gym visit won’t do the trick. It will take concerted effort to monitor the positives and negatives in your eating and exercising if you really want to reach your goal. The same principles hold true for CX!
In our 4-year study of CX practices, companies that presented VoC to all employees and expected action by owners of CX key drivers tended to have stronger business results tied to CX efforts. Yet, less than half of companies are making these practices an essential part of their CX strategy.
Advantages abound for sharing VoC with everyone, and expecting every department to manage their respective ripple effect on CX. These practices are among the best ways to instill customer-centric culture, create shared vision for CX, reduce costs, and stimulate innovation that creates mutual value for the company and customers.
Systemic Customer Experience Improvement
Most customer surveys have closed-loop case management, where an action alert is generated when a respondent voices a concern or complaint, and managers are committed to following up with the respondent within a specific time period. This practice has been common in satisfaction and experience surveys since the early 1990s. As surveys are a representative sample of the buying population, it’s important to think of these action alerts as early warning signals. It’s necessary to look for the patterns among these signals and address them systemically so that your entire buying population is spared of repeated concerns.
“Systemic” means “affecting the entire organism or body”. This is a critical principle for CX excellence, as we noted: customers think of a company as “one”. Think of those pharmaceutical ads with extensive disclosures of the potential downsides of the product. If we were fully honest about the realities of the customer experience, ads for any product might include something like: “Get yours now for $9.99 … Side effects may include extensive waiting time for delivery, incomplete usage instructions, unexpected urgency to contact customer service, confusing billing paperwork, information in disparate systems, …”. You get the picture.
Customer experience is more than a product. And more than an interaction. Customer experience is “all interactions people have with or about a solution: messages, people, processes, policies, prices, products, and services.” And everyone in the company has a hand in how well these CX components play out for customers.
Cross-Functional Teams Improve Customer Experience
When I led CX improvement at Applied Materials, company-wide employee engagement was key to our CX strategy from the beginning. We provided each account team, business unit, and functional area with their cut of the customer survey results, to minimize finger-pointing and maximize ownership of customer feedback. We reviewed the company-wide survey results to show the context of the organization’s situation, and spent time with a cross-functional team in each organization discussing the interpretation of the feedback. Our mantra was “Good news is no news, no news is bad news, bad news is good news.”
The cross-functional teams read through customer verbatim comments related to the biggest bad-news topics. Then they worked together to ask “why” five times, in order to identify the root causes of what customers were experiencing. The teams then created action items to address each root cause. And they identified a metric that would track the progress of action item execution.
We treated this metric as a leading indicator of future customer feedback. If we had correctly identified the root causes, and if we successfully eradicated or minimized the root issues, we could expect future customer perceptions to improve — and future buying behavior and recommendations to increase accordingly.
Our CX governance team oversaw all the plans so that synergies could be developed among teams with similar goals. This was very important for systems thinking and nurturing cross-organizational collaboration.
Accountability was emphasized by publishing teams’ action plan progress company-wide for quarterly review side-by-side with our financials, as part of executives’ preparation for industry analyst calls. Motivation was accentuated by placing significant weighting on action plan metrics in the executive incentive plan, and by providing widespread visibility to achievements through a self-reporting team recognition program.
Our 4-year study of CX practices revealed strong emphases on VoC and customer engagement — and relatively weak “middleware”: systemic customer experience improvement and innovation. We call it middleware, because VoC informs CX improvement and innovation, and customer engagement is earned by CX improvement and innovation. ROI on VoC and customer engagement is dependent upon the middleware.
The CX ROI building-blocks model shows this as a left-right flow of CX activities in tandem. All of the building-blocks are needed simultaneously in order to maximize CX excellence and ROI.
Stepping stones within the Improvement of Customer Experience building-block include:
- Engage everyone in VoC actions: present VoC comments to everyone and expect everyone’s action on key drivers.
- Resolve & prevent customer pain systematically: use root cause analysis, formal complaint management, quality tools, organizational learning, and systematic prevention and communication.
- Enable customer-focused daily work: empower employees by helping them use CX excellence criteria in their decision-making.
Dozens of tools are available to help deploy these stepping stones. Most are quality tools that are learned through six sigma and lean training. They include Pareto chart, force-field analysis, activity network diagrams, and so forth.
Make continual improvement of CX a way of life in your company. As customers’ pressures and interests evolve, your company needs to readily adapt — and ideally, anticipate and prevent issues from occurring in the first place. The cost savings are likely to be quite significant, and the unity across your company may propel productivity. Systemic CX improvement is the key ingredient in the recipe for building trust, which organically encourages customers to be raving fans of your company.
This article is 7th in a 10-part series providing glimpses into the ClearCXTM customer experience maturity assessment.
- Customer Experience Maturity Roadmap
- Customer Experience Strategy is Uncommon
- Customer-Centricity is Controversial
- Comments are Customer Experience Gold
- Customer Experience Intelligence Inspires Innovation
- Customer Lifetime Value Prioritizes Customer Experience Management
- Customer Experience Improvement is a Team Sport
- Customer Experience Innovation Creates Mutual Value
- Employee Engagement: Living Your Brand Promise
- Customer Engagement is the Capstone of Customer Experience Management
- Employee Engagement in Superior Customer Experience
- Customer Experience Management Prevents Hassles
- Improve Customer Experience by Eliminating Customer-Focus Boundaries
- What’s Your Customer Experience Value Quotient?
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