Customer Experience In Search of Courage and Action

Customer experience does not need another dashboard and more customer voice. What it needs are leaders with the courage to act on customer feedback to create a real difference in the marketplace.
Customer Experience

During the past two years, it seems that the customer experience industry has been taken over by technology. It seems as though we are bound to repeat the CRM industry mistake of putting the cart before the horse and rushing to implement technology without the strategic and operational context for success. At its height, CRM showed 50 percent failure rate. Hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted yearly because the focus was on technology implementation, not strategic intent and execution.

Once again, we are allowing technologists to make broad statements declaring that CX is about Voice of Customer (VOC) programs, social and mobile channels, or the latest online self-service tools (all in the name of appealing to Millennials, of course). Reducing customer experience to a number or a tool diminishes its true potential impact. It also ensures lack of support from senior leadership. After all, they are not the IT department.

Having been on the transformation journey with hundreds of companies, I've learned a simple lesson, which a client once said to me: "Even a fool with a tool is still a fool." When exploring the real impact that many VOC programs have managed to create, we see a range from no impacts to incremental changes at best. A very small fraction of the organizations who deployed these programs managed to leverage them for true differentiation. The most common response I've heard from executives when confronted with their poor VOC results has been "there is no surprise there." If there is no surprise in the VOC results, why are you doing it? And, an even more crucial question, why aren't you doing anything about it? Here is the dirty secret: no one wants to talk about it. Because they don't care. Because it is not important enough. Because they manage to make their numbers even with bad VOC results.

CX practitioners, as expressed at the latest Customer Experience conference, are still struggling with basic elements of success such as active senior-leadership support, sense of urgency, and empowerment of employees at the front line. As a study conducted with Harvard Business Review benchmarking 300 companies who are committed to a customer centric strategy indicated:

  • 58 percent have a clear strategy
  • 49 percent have a sense of urgency
  • 39 percent dedicated resources to employee trainings
  • 42 percent have clear timelines to success
  • 33 percent have clear employee empowerment guidelines

But they all have voice-of-customer programs.

What our industry needs more than anything else is an honest look in the mirror. We do not need more tools to tell us what is wrong. We need the capacity to make a difference-and a big difference at that, not just small process changes here and there or removing complaints and obstacles, which will get only to the hygiene factor. What is necessary is a customer experience of high order of magnitude that will differentiate the organization in the marketplace and truly please customers.

It starts with the courage to dare. When walking the halls of customer experience conferences, I've heard many practitioners celebrating small successes and journey mapping workshops. They've been told that this is good progress. If we want our profession to be taken seriously, we need to start with ourselves and with the impact we want to make in the customers' and employees' worlds. What is our promise to our organization? How do we impact our CEO's agenda and target numbers? No offense, but for many CEOs, customer satisfaction and NPS is a nice-to-have measure, but not a critical-to-survival measure. How do I know? Let's apply a litmus test. How often does the CEO call you to check on their NPS score? Now, how often does he call their VP of sales to get the status on his numbers?

Why should he call us as often as he calls the VP of sales? Because if we are courageous and are willing to win a real number, we should be in charge of customer retention and held accountable to this number. That is the real business problem we should be solving for our organizations. We should measure and monitor those numbers and use VOC as indicators of progress and alerts of risks, but not as the ultimate number. For most customer experience professionals, we are not there.

It must start with redefining our commitment and impact. Aim low and you will be treated that way. Aim high and get scared, but you will get resources as well because when you own operational numbers, you get real budgets to make them happen.

Customer experience does not need another dashboard and more customer voice. What it needs is for customer voices to be acted upon to create real difference in the marketplace. What your organization needs is a courageous leader with a strong bias for action and a sense of urgency. The choice starts with us. Are you willing and ready?