CX Program misconceptions

Misconceptions That Kill CX

by Steven Keith

(TLDR: Don’t make Customer Experience an initiative within your company. This is based on the misconception that CX can be an adjunct to your core and buying into this lie can kill your CX efforts. Instead, do the hard work to make CX an inextricable and strategic asset. Focus on blending CX into the reason you’re in business. An engaged force of employees who are given the tools, trust and latitude to collectivize their ambitions for a greater purpose are the anti-rejection solution this new way of doing business requires. As long as executives treat Customer Experience as ‘adjunct’ or ‘auxiliary’ to the core, efforts to increase benefits from CX are over 10X more likely to fail.)

People and the companies that employ them are very complex systems of deep, inter-relational connections, desires, decisions, and consequential reactions. Many of them plan and execute CX programs inside their companies in an effort to reap their part of the hyper-researched and prolifically-published rewards of more allegiant customers. And why wouldn’t they? All the research indicates it’s a good idea for any customer-reliant business. The problem remains, as long as CX programs are treated as ‘adjunct’ or ‘auxiliary’ they will more than likely fail.

If you’re in the CX industry or you have been researching how CX can be integrated into your company, you have likely run into the phrase, “you must have executive support to make your customer experience efforts succeed.” Theoretically, this is great and it’s a true statement. But what does it really mean? Is it a scapegoat? Is it a trap? Is it a red herring? No. But it is too often an obligatory remark that falls hollow and deflated because it doesn’t go far enough—or at the very least, it’s misunderstood. Or it’s a last ditch result of leadership outrage at the dysfunction of their company’s ability to harvest the gains of more invested customers.

Think about this. Show me one company leader or manager who doesn’t ‘support’ improving customer experiences or acknowledge the irrefutable economics that proves revenue from existing happy customers outflanks revenue levels from brand new or unhappy customers. Show me one executive that doesn’t understand that a well-functioning and appropriately supported CX/CEM program enjoys:

  • 10X greater annual growth in customer lifetime value
  • 7.6X greater annual increase in revenue from customer referrals
  • 6.3X greater annual increase in average profit margin per customer
  • 4.6X greater year-over-year growth in annual company revenue
  • 2.1X greater customer retention rate

(Aberdeen Group Research, 2016 Report on Customer Lifecycle Management)

Most of us know this and have been told about these benefits—dozens of times and in dozens of ways. But yet those benefits feel too elusive. How do they achieve those gains? How come despite the efforts and investments in CX, your company isn’t capturing these results? The answer lies in the level and nature of your company’s support.

Everyone ‘supports’ efforts that ultimately increase engagement and revenue gains from happier customers. But what does ‘support’ really mean in this context? What gets in the way? What happens to best laid plans?

If leadership chooses to support CX with a financial investment, a charter, leadership buy-in, or periodic status meetings and full involvement from IT, Finance, Operations and Marketing, will that go far enough? Companies who integrate a CX/CEM program, staff it and commit to its support, still find success elusive? The answer, empirically, lies in the nature, level of and breadth of support. And the appropriate nature, level and breadth of support, in our experience is evidenced by the company culture’s adaptivity and tolerance to change.

This is key. The burden of success actually lies on the backs of the employees, those who make up and influence the bulk of your culture. Culture’s level of adaptivity and tolerance is influenced by the degree to which this change is purpose-led and thoroughly communicated. It has everything to do with a drumbeat. A purposeful rhythm of authentic words, actions, decisions and the degree to which respected leaders trust the ideas and actions of people who are willing to collectivize ambition toward a greater good—greater than the revenue goals research has told us lie at the end of such programs.

The reality is that most companies rarely do the important work to understand the culture or environment in which a CX program needs to operate and ultimately, thrive. They fail to see that the culture of their companies is the ‘corpus’ that decides whether or not the body will accept or reject the newly transplanted organ (CX program) and if it does, how long it will take and with how much friction or outright rejection. And regarding rejection, another reality is that most programs initially reject the change at first, but those that are successful today are those programs that met rejection with a steady and purposeful drumbeat of evidence, communications and encouragement that CX is taking hold and that people are doing the right things, right.

It breaks my heart to know that a majority of CX programs are currently circling the drain. It’s just a matter of time. They are surviving merely on hope and faith in lieu of plans and conviction. And while hope and faith are a critical part of everything, when left alone, they become the enemy of progress. This happens when decision-makers lack the knowledge or courage to make important changes.

The question is, what effect does this lack of knowledge and courage to make the right changes have on the company culture?

100% of the companies I have worked with have had to deal with the exact same problem. They all started out with the greatest of intentions but later realized that adding CX to the mix was perceived as just another of a long string of changes or additions to the already long list of shit they have have to deal with. Because executive decision-makers lacked the knowledge and courage to make the right changes, people lost their respect and will to care about their roles in the new program and really authentically care about the customer’s role in the business. This isn’t the way CX is supposed to happen.

This approach, while easiest to implement, is not only fraught with risk, if not approached strategically and adopted wholeheartedly by the employees on the front line—it’s almost certainly doomed to join a very long list of CX program failures.

So, what do you do?

Start by acknowledging a few key realities:

  • Know that CX Programs are highly adaptive living systems that abhor both an org chart and a slot on a PMO’s (project management office) whiteboard.
  • Know that they are rarely planned and executed and operationally successful right out of the gate. They take significant planning from experienced decision-makers.
  • Know that the fuel needed to keep a CX engine running is a trusted and engaged force of employees who are given the tools and support to collectivize their ambition around a purpose greater than money.
  • Know that CX is a system, and so is your company and so is your culture. And like all systems, they will seek an insular path of least resistance. They naturally want to seek their default state of status-quo. You win at CX when you battle status quo by harnessing your most powerful system, your company culture. Engrain CX in the company culture first.
  • Know that CX is way more than a platform. Technology is an enabler to collect data and augment decision-making—that’s all. People’s collective ambition to do the right things right are what make or break your CX program. Do not subordinate people to technology and hope that will make your CX program headache go away.
  • Know that all successful CX programs rise out of culture of cartography (map making) and successful CX leaders become powerful cartographers. When they want to map customer journeys, employee journeys, digital journeys, etc., invest in any and all tools to help them do that. 100% of your successes will come from people isolating and addressing gaps in the value-delivery ecosystem that corporate cartography can uniquely highlight.

In the final analysis, it’s all about decisions. Make your executive and leadership decisions about CX/CEM well and make them matter. Empathize. Treat CX as a responsibility and an opportunity at the same time. When you make your decisions, think about it from deeply authentic, human perspective.

Think about how your company culture deals with adaptivity, adoption, change tolerance and shared sense of purpose. Think of it from the perspective of a committed force of employees who want to do the right things for the right reasons. Challenge yourself to hold two potentially opposing perspectives in mind at the same time by thinking provocatively about switching the polarity of power from top-down to bottom-up and how that would shift key decisions about CX. After all, it isn’t difficult to understand that your best customers are far more similar to your employees than they are to you, the executives. Harness that similarity.

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