Engage the C-Suite as Your Partner, Not as Your Customer

3 c-suite engagement strategies
Customer Experience
These three actions will take marketers from being service providers to the C-suite to partners in leading customer-driven growth.

If you are leading a customer experience transformation, or are part of a team that is, this may be the life you lead: Prepare deck, present deck, pitch deck.

This approach puts you in the role of a service provider presenting and asking for approval or feedback, rather than a partner who builds and develops and leads together. And it sets you up for “transactional commitment” from your C-suite. 

You know the drill. You’re on the C-suite agenda. When you are up, people pay attention. Heads nod. “Yes, yes, of course…. let’s do it.” Then this:  “Give us an update on your work.” And there is the rub. You’ve got two things going on here. It’s considered your work. And the commitment is there when you are presenting…but doesn’t get embedded in their work outside the room where you presented.

Here are three successful approaches that can make you more successful in leading a transformation with executives in the C-suite your partners. 

  1. Make the work actionable, and assign co-leadership duties.

Break the work into pieces with specific outcomes, and ask two C-suite leaders to co-lead the achievement of that section of the work. What makes this work a great pitch in a meeting and difficult to operationalize afterwards is its vagueness. Of course there’s agreement to be better to customers…but you’ve got to do the legwork to assign actions and hold people accountable.

When you flip your role and engage differently with the C-suite from you doing the pitching and doing, to outlining actions and engaging them to take specific actions, things will change. Your role will become clearer and the work will start to be owned.

For example, a large bank and I were working to identify its “Customer as Assets” success metric that would simply define the growth or loss of the customer base. The goal was to have leaders own this as a simple barometer of the entire company’s ability to earn the right to customer-driven growth. The “pitch and present” approach would have been to put together a draft of the answer to get approval of, and then go pitch leaders throughout the organization to agree to this metric. But that was not our goal. Our goal was not just to build a one-company version of that simple metric, but also to have leaders own it. That it would become second nature to them in how they kicked off all of their key meetings, and that it would be discussed as passionately as sales goal achievement. 

Instead of pitching and presenting, we asked the CEO and CFO to co-lead the creation and embedding of this metric. We built a small team of people to grab and pour through the data so a one-company version would be established of customer asset growth or loss. As a result, the first people who started using this new language and metric in how they described the company’s health was the CEO and CFO. Quickly this new behavior and language became a part of the business language.  

  1. Unite decision-making and resource allocation; end your life as a beggar. 

Another challenging part of this work is getting the resources needed to affect change. As part of the “pitch and present” approach, the C-suite will say to move forward, but then the work is on the customer experience transformation team to go get the resources and build the team of people to do the work.

And that’s where the rub comes in. The commitment to go forth with the work is not always passed on to the teams of the C-suite that they’ll be asked to participate. The customer experience team now becomes a beggar…asking, often pleading for people to come be a part of work layered on their already full plate of work.  

Instead…put the ball in the court of the C-suite to pick priorities and allocate resources. Move your work from preselecting priorities and asking for resources to leading the C-suite to a united conclusion of actions to be taken and resources to be provided. This moves you from beggar to facilitator of the answer. You bring multiple factions of the organization to provide a comprehensive view to enable more thorough and balanced focus and prioritization. And that again, clarifies your role and makes the C-suite a partner, not a customer.

For example, for a world-renowned manufacturer of water sports equipment, the customer “asks” often came in the form of the issues that arose out of customer service or the parts department. These were seen as costs, and not necessarily connected to the overall goal to see more motor sports and continue their leadership marketplace position.

Instead of pitching and presenting the issues, we walked the C-suite across the customer journey monthly. Across each stage, we collected multiple forms of feedback and the impact in terms of business growth. We were able to prove our worth to the leadership team as that group that united multiple sources of information to let them see clearly what the emerging issues impacting growth were currently and could spiral to in the future.

As we traversed the customer journey stages, we circled the big emerging issues. And here’s the flip: Instead of suggesting what we worked on, we built the case with logic and data. Then we made it their decision as a united leadership team. And we were able to also press the issue of prioritization and resources required. In one “customer room” (what we call this process) sequence, for example, 10 emerging issues were identified. We circled each one, and then facilitated a dialogue with the C-suite to pick the top three. As a part of that dialogue, they then were required to pony up resources from their team to help work on the priorities they identified. Gone were the beggar days for that team as their role became clearer and their value increased.

  1. Guide one-company experience solutions.

The Achilles’ heel of this work is that well-intentioned leaders go off and do their own thing to get lift on a survey score or chip away at the part of the issue residing in their operating area. 

And this furthers the role of the customer experience transformist as the person chasing down action, putting it on a spreadsheet, and reporting the progress of projects.

Instead, become a partner with the C-suite in identifying the few one-company efforts that will truly make a difference in driving growth, rather than the multitude of one-off projects that exist inside most organizations.

For example, continuing the story of the water sports manufacturer above, rather than each C-suite leader going out on their own, we assembled teams for each priority identified. The customer experience team then acted as a center of excellence in facilitating the teams in depicting the current experience starting with customers (versus the machine). We worked to embed human centered design approaches to rethink the experiences and processes.

And here’s where the change occurred: We used that customer room for each team monthly to present their actions and advances in each prioritized area that had been identified previously by the C-suite.  This moved the customer experience team well past the people who reported the news to working with the C-suite as partners to redesign the operation of the business. 

While there’s much more on this topic we can discuss, I hope these three actions and examples will get you well beyond being a service provider to the C-suite to a partner in leading customer-driven growth, which is where you belong to be.  

As always please feel free to reach out to me at Jeanne@customerbliss.com if you’d like to chat about this work we share such passion doing.