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What does it take to be a successful CX leader?

8th Dec 2021
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A CX leader with their hands on the tiller in 2021 is not the same leader that they were at the start of last year. The pandemic has tested the mettle of executives charged with reacting in a meaningful way to the shifting sands of customer needs, wants and expectations in the past year. Leadership focused on what needed to be done. The big question was: “what do I need to do to get the business through this”.

As the new year unfolds – the question now is: “what kind of leader do I want to be” to deliver the change required to build back better around a revitalised customer experience.

Sea change on this scale requires people throughout the business – at all levels from leadership to the front line – to be equipped to deliver a new and different experience to customers. This will require vision, purpose, energy and empowerment. The leader’s job will be that much harder in businesses where employees are resistant to cultural change.

In times of crisis or dramatic change, when the stakes are high, it is tempting to think that decisions need to be taken and implemented quickly. The need for speed is often used as a justification for acting on the basis of hunch: “we don’t have time to review all the available data”. It’s also used to justify sidestepping the engagement of important stakeholder groups: “not everyone is on board with the changes that we need to make and it takes time – that we haven’t got – to convince people”. Giving in to these temptations is a big mistake even in normal times.

What does it take to be a successful CX leader?

Based on first-hand experience, and with the benefit of working closely with some inspiring leaders, we have identified 7 traits of world class CX leaders that we can learn from.

7 traits …

1. Visionary and purposeful

Great CX leaders are strategic thinkers with a simple, compelling vision of brand purpose and the values that are meaningful to their customers. They are clear about their organisations’ value proposition and how this delivers customer benefit. Successful leadership motivates by purpose rather than fear. This positive, shared purpose brings their people with them.

2. Visible and openly communicative

Inspirational leaders are visible and they build a culture of open communication to keep employees engaged about what matters to customers and how this links that back to vision, purpose and strategy. They create a line of sight between employees’ roles and the company’s goals. In a remote world, they understand that it is more crucial than ever to keep employees connected around a shared common purpose.

3. Critical thinking and action-orientated

Successful CX leaders embrace new ways of thinking and acting. They also analyse the impact of their decisions on their organisation and customers. Actions and decisions about how to deliver business goals and KPIs are driven by insight from the best available data rather than just a hunch or wishful thinking.

4. Collaborative and catalytic

CX leaders don’t live in splendid isolation and engage with stakeholder groups including operational managers and senior executives to deliver the vision of something new or different. They have already learned that change requires cross-business collaboration. In a chaotic world they get things done. They pay attention not just to the ‘what’ but also to the ‘how’. They are happy to import innovation to bring about the change required.

5. Bold and decisive

Great leaders are decisive and confident about the decisions they take to deliver their organisation’s CX vision and strategy. This confidence reassures employees and customers that there is a steady hand on the tiller. They are also not afraid to take tough decisions and shoulder the consequences of poor decision-making.

6. Empathetic and caring

Empathetic leaders that bring warmth and personalities to their role get the best from their people. They genuinely care about what their people go through and invest in making their employee experience more meaningful and rewarding. They know that customer experience fails when businesses fail to take care of the gatekeepers of that experience – their employees.

7. Transparent and honest

Open CX leaders inspire employee trust and loyalty. They are transparent about what it takes to deliver what the business promises to customers and they share successes and failures. They listen, coach and encourage and ask for honest feedback.

3 examples …

Let’s take a look at how these leadership traits have helped to put three CX executives among the shining stars in the 2020 year book. Meet the winner, and a couple of the brilliant finalists of MyCustomer’s 2020 CX Leader of the Year.

Here are just some of the reasons why the website and judging panel thought the executives shone out.

James Scutt, Head of Customer Experience Strategy and Deployment – Post Office

James was named CX Leader of the Year. There are many reasons why James, who was tasked with overhauling the customer experience and making the Post Office easy to do business with, won the ultimate accolade. Let’s focus on just one reason here: critical thinking and his painstaking determination to research five years’ of customer data to first work out what was important to customers before he went on to develop a five-year plan.

Through the research, James identified six customer drivers: friendly, professional, knowledge, understanding, efficiency, and expectations. The work also uncovered just how emotive customer comments were and this told him that an emotional measurement of experience was needed. James understood that he needed to develop an emotional scale that could be easily communicated by team members and measured through KPIs expressed in customer feedback (“delighted” or “ irritated” for example). The customer drivers and emotional measurement gave James actionable insight on customers’ experiences in the Post Office to build the programme. Read more of James’ story here.

Antonia Oakes, Executive Head of Customer Experience and Responsible Business, Old Mutual Insure

Being charged with increasing customer satisfaction, brand sentiment and improving the ROI on experience is no mean feat when the organisation you are transforming is rooted in 180 years of conservative traditions. But from the offset, Antonia had a plan to bring about the cultural shift among senior leaders that was required to change the organisation; it was to collaborate and bring the C-suite and stakeholders with her on the importance of CX every step of the way. For example, stakeholders, alongside brokers and customers, were involved at every stage of the process to introduce customer and employee journey mapping. Read more of Antonia’s story here.

Mark Billingham, Group Customer Experience Director and COO, The Very Group

Mark was tasked with making the Group a customer-centric organisation, improving customer and brand perceptions and creating industry-leading customer outcomes. These were major challenges for a business transitioning over the past three years from being a catalogue company to being a cutting-edge online retailer. But, with a set of clear objectives for his role and a clear strategic vision, Mark introduced a series of initiatives (people and tech focused) to make sure the whole organisation, from the top down, was invested in a shared purpose: to be focused on being a customer-first business and continually create great customer experiences. Read more of Mark’s story here.

1 rule …

No two leaders are the same. Every CX leader is unique with individual traits and characteristics that help them set the gold standard on customer experience for their customers and business. But food for thought as you assess how to bring your business with you on your journey of change.

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