Selling the value of customer experience to the Board in the wake of COVID-19


There's never been a greater need for a customer-centric focus, but there's a danger that CX programmes will be affected by a drive to cut costs. So how do you make your case to the Board? Here's what appeals to a number of senior leadership roles and why. 

28th May 2020

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, there was a significant existential debate underway about the future of customer experience as a profession. Analysts like Forrester in their predictions for 2020 were already saying that ‘…to continue succeeding, CX leaders must prove the ROI of CX investments in 2020.'

But that was in an economic and business climate that no longer exists - it is much worse now.

Today, the pressure is really on. There can be little doubt that we are facing the deepest recession in living memory. Money is going to be in short supply, including public and private sector finance, as well as the disposable income of consumers. What’s more, business and consumer confidence is at an all-time low.

During the peak of the pandemic, the Board agenda was dominated by short-term necessity – how to survive the lockdown and protect staff and customers. Transformation projects that would normally take many months to deliver were in place within days or weeks, meanwhile other costs were being cut to the bone. As one executive said to me: "Survival was all about cutting deep and cutting quick".

But it looks like we are beginning to emerge out of the other side of the crisis, The UK Government’s Plan to Rebuild has laid out its strategy for restarting the economy. Yet, at a time when there has probably never been a greater need for a customer-centric focus, there is a real danger that CX programmes and staff will be dramatically affected by a drive to cut costs across the board.

How then do you make your case to the Board? With so much on their agenda (not least of which is dealing with the fallout of COVID-19), how do you convince the decision-making unit of your organisation that continued (even increased) investment in customer experience is a sound business and financial strategy.

Assuming that you have already recalculated the financial RoI of your CX programme, what else do you need to think about? In this article, I will lay out what appeals to a number of senior leadership roles and why.

The chief executive officer and the chief operating officer

Whilst, the CEO’s main responsibilities are to ensure that the business meets its strategic goals, achieves its financial objectives, and to lead the executive team; the COO oversees the smooth running of the day-to-day operations. Both have a responsibility for formulating strategy and taking actions based on informed strategic decisions.

The CEO will want to know how your CX strategy fits in with the larger organisational strategy and how it will help to deliver the goals of the business. They will also want a compelling talk track for investors and stakeholders.

The COO on the other hand will be focussing on the transition back to ‘normal’ operations. They will want to know that your CX strategy won’t disrupt that transition and, ideally, may even be an enabler – for example, how the new technologies and a Voice of the Customer programme could act as an early warning system for emerging operational issues.

The chief marketing officer and the chief sales (revenue) officer

Both the CMO and CSO craft strategies to increase sales and overall market share of the business. The CMO is responsible for overseeing the planning, development and execution of an organisation's marketing and advertising initiatives; and the CSO for crafting the sales strategy, heading up the sales department and overseeing all sales related activities. Both can also be responsible for finding new pathways back to growth.

Many CMOs are currently thinking about how to reengage with a customer base which has new needs and new priorities. They are also probably thinking about how to identify and reach new customer segments. CMOs have long understood the value of good customer experience, but perhaps not fully appreciated how much valuable data such programmes can produce.

Of course, the CSO is going to want to reboot sales campaigns – they will want to know which customer types are still buying and why, what features matter to customers (and which don’t) and how best to sell to them. Your CX programme can help with that, especially if you can help find a sales opportunity within a customer service journey.

The chief financial officer

The CFO controls, reports and plans finances for a company, as well liaising with shareholders, banks and other financial institutions. They also manage the company's income and expenses, and help secure the business' overall success. CFO's almost always focus on earning the highest Return on Investment – in good times, they weigh up where best to invest, in bad times they look for opportunities to cut costs.

To be frank, CFOs are all about the numbers and especially the money. With money in short supply, they are currently having to make some very uncomfortable decisions and many will be actively seeking to reduce spending on anything that does not deliver significant and quantifiable value to the business.

You should actively enlist the help of the CFO in preparing a revised value-based business case – if your CX programme is seen as a non-essential cost, it will be cut, so help them understand where the value of CX lies.

The chief technology officer and the chief information officer

A CTO is primarily focused on the scientific and technological opportunities for a business, so they are usually on the lookout for new technologies and ensuring that the business stays on top of innovation. The role of the CIO is to help set and lead the information technology strategy for a company, and to provide an executive-level interface between the IT department and the rest of the business.

Both the CTO and the CIO have been (and will continue to be) incredibly busy over the last few months. If your business was one that embarked on the ‘Dash to Digital’ to survive, it still faces a period of full implementation and review.

Don’t make their lives harder by asking for more technology right now. Rather, work with them to explore how the opportunities presented by these new technologies could be used to improve customer service – they deal with the tech, you can focus on the people and processes.

The chief data officer and chief analytics officer

The CDO bears responsibility for a business’ data and information strategy and effective exploitation; whilst the CAO focuses on the infrastructure required for generating and analysing information and on providing input into operational decisions on the basis of analyses.

Both CDOs and CAOs are facing an uncomfortable truth – a lot of the data they have on customers, and therefore the analyses and models that were built on that data, are probably out of date. Lots of customer are in financial, physical and psychological distress. The CAO will need current data to rebuild segmentation models that, for example, the CMO can use in campaigns. The CDO is going to have to figure how to obtain (and possible store) that data.

Put yourself at the heart of that discussion – explain how your CX programmes can generate data and provide insight into customers – what is the new data telling you in light of your understanding of customers?

The chief risk officer

The CRO of a business is accountable for enabling the efficient and effective governance of significant risks, and related opportunities, to a business. CROs are also responsible for enabling the business to balance risk and reward.

The CRO will want to be sure that your CX programme is not introducing any new risks to the organisation at a time when there is already a lot of change underway. Before meeting with the CRO, develop your own risk register and risk management plan. If there are risks, what can you and the business do to monitor, mitigate or respond to them? Try to think of as many as you can (and enlist the help of your colleagues).

In conclusion

If your organisation is big enough to have a formal CX programme, it almost certainly has a senior leadership team who make up the decision-making unit. Part of their role is to collectively evaluate competing demands on money and resources and decide what gets funded and what gets cut – especially now.

If your CX programme is to secure its long term future, it will need the support of the whole board, not just an executive sponsor or coach. Get to know every member of the board and what they care about - it’s your job to ‘connect the dots’ for them: explain how what you do can positively influence the things they are measured on.

Executive teams are sometime accused of having a short attention span, which is unfair – right now, they’re making critical decisions at an unprecedented rate, whilst still being accountable to stakeholders, regulators and employees. You need to take the time to prepare a compelling case for CX, because they can’t.


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