How to Make Customer Experience Strategy Integral to Corporate Strategy
Is customer experience management in your company (a) a subset of corporate strategy, (b) unrelated to corporate strategy, or (c) a determinant of corporate strategy? This question was asked in the ClearAction Annual Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Best Practices Study. And the findings were significant: when the answer was "c", the company tended to have stronger business results attributed to customer experience management (CXM), as well as more holistic CXM practices.
That makes a lot of sense when you stop to think about it. Why do companies succeed? Follow the money. Pure and simple. The money comes from customers. When customers leave, investors leave, not the other way around. Hence, common sense says customer experience (CX) insights should be a determinant of corporate strategy . . . and certainly not an afterthought or altogether separate!
"As a determinant of corporate strategy, think of CX insights as part of a trilogy including financial and people stewardship. Think of this trilogy as the captain of a rowing team. The rowing team represents the company overall. The captain sits in the stern facing the bow, steers the boat, and coordinates the power and rhythm of the rowers."
1) Get a Listening Ear
How to crack that nut? Some companies are lucky enough to be founded by a customer-centered leadership team, and some companies get infused with customer-centered executives somewhere down the road. If that’s not your case, you need to first get a listening ear from someone on the C-team. Ask them about the logic described above regarding following the money. Ask them whether they have ever had that conversation with fellow C-team members. If not, why not? And how soon could that conversation occur?
Self-examination by the entire C-team is necessary, and you may want to bring in an influential outsider to facilitate that self-examination about straight thinking on "follow the money" logic and alignment. What is the company doing that is at odds with CX insights as a context for the company's existence, structure, strategies, practices, and mindsets?
2) Tap into Strengths
One of the most powerful things I've found in aligning anyone or anything is to find the points of commonality as strengths. Then build from those strengths. To do this, take a look at your company's vision, mission, values, and key objectives statements. What exists already that is congruent with CX excellence truths? Take those nuggets and leverage them in your opening, closing, and commitment-making statements in as many things you do as possible.
For example, at Applied Materials where I worked for 11 years, we had a corporate value of "close to the customer". We took a lot of pride in that. We had to be close to our customer because the sales cycle was many months in duration, and the product manufacturing and installation cycles were just as long. We often had sales and technical staff with office space at customers' sites, working there day in and day out. So we felt we were close to our customers, but it is human nature to be self-centered, and we were.
One of our top customers' CEO told us we were arrogant and hard to do business with; he said he couldn't wait for any of our competitors to be first to market with next-generation technology so he could take his business there. That was an attention-grabber. This type of thing is a blessing in disguise to CX professionals.
Our CEO used two mantras that I leveraged: "Our super-ordinate goal is customers' business results." That shifted our thinking beyond our own self-absorption to thinking about our customers' jobs-to-be-done: productivity maximization, risk minimization, satisfying their customers, etc. We began to talk more about these customer care-abouts as our reason for existence and industry leadership.
The other mantra that was very useful to me in leading CXM was: "Good news is no news, no news is bad news, bad news is good news." This was particularly useful in getting our managers to put down their defensiveness when we emphasized improvement opportunities coming from customer comments and ratings. Our emphasis was cross-functional engagement in making substantial CX improvement across all product lines, all regions, and all support functions.
3) Cascade Objectives
It may take time for mantras like this to come from your CEO. In the meantime, find those CX-aligned nuggets in the vision, mission, values, and key objectives statements and cascade them down to your work. If needed, you can also draw from what your C-team has proclaimed to industry analysts or customers or anyone else. Whatever you choose should be something the CEO takes pride in.
"Cascading objectives" means that you begin with a CX-related nugget that's important to your CEO, then determine what your top executive reporting to the CEO can contribute to his or her boss' success regarding that CX-related objective. For the next executive in your chain of command, identify what can he or she contribute to the next level boss' success in that domain.
This pattern cascades to the level that you're working at. Emphasize your team's performance in what's directly connected to the CEO's radar screen, and you've now got something in common to get their attention on. Make your work obviously relevant to the CEO's personal success, and then the C-team member whose ear you have will be more successful in helping the entire C-team self-evaluate.
4) Avoid Being Duped
There are a lot of misconceptions and erroneous labels of "CX strategy". Skunkworks and subsets (such as digital marketing, CRM, VoC) are not standalone strategies, nor are they the proper positioning for CXM, as pointed out in "follow the money" logic. If we do not strive to make CX a context for overall management throughout the company, then we risk of CXM being defined as remedial management or revenue management. It has the potential to do so much more than that.
Make extensive use of customer comments to paint the full picture of what the company's true boss expects, what's missing, and what's going well. Avoid over-reliance on ratings and indexes that obscure customer expectations and what's missing. Help your C-team sponsor use that information to conduct a gap analysis of what the company is doing in alignment with or at odds with their boss' expectation and needs. That boss is not the Board of Directors or Wall Street. That boss is who's making salaries, budgets and dividends possible: customers.
5) Follow the Money
These practices will make your CXM strategically relevant:
a) Present CX data in percentages, to show how big the customer segment is that is unhappy. This will grab managers' attention.
b) Make rough calculations about the lifetime value of that customer segment. This will help motivate managers and prioritize efforts.
c) Put processes in place to pursue both sides of the ROI equation: the faulty investments of status quo processes that aren't hitting the mark for customers (whittle-down dumb costs), as well as upside potential of being easier to do business with. These aspects of ROI are rarely considered, yet so powerful toward making CX strategy integral to corporate strategy.
d) Step back and look at things from a customer's viewpoint. Purely. When choosing to buy from you, customers are not eager to participate with your contact center or voice of the customer or digital marketing or loyalty processes — yet those are the focus areas of most CX professionals. To become more strategic to the C-suite, CX professionals must shift gears to preventing dumb costs across the board, in addition to growing revenue — and the smartest way to grow is organically, without a constant treadmill of resources being thrown at it.
6) Context for Managerial Success
Managing financial performance wisely is a universal context for every manager. Nobody is exempt. Managing people wisely is the same. Financial and people stewardship are essential for every manager: a cardinal rule. The other leg of the three-legged stool is customer experience excellence. There is a domino-effect of every manager's decisions and handoffs that eventually reaches the customers' experience with the company. These are simple truths.
The trilogy of financial, people, and customer experience stewardship form the context for managerial success in every function and sector. C-teams that embrace this truth and align the company accordingly are the ones we applaud in lists of best-loved companies. Being best-loved is the ultimate strategy, making strong profitability sustainable.
Lynn Hunsaker, Customer Experience Transformation Strategist, is head of ClearAction, Marketing Operations Partners, and the Marketing Future Forum. She has developed and led customer experience transformation for more than half of her career, as Voice of the Customer Manager...