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The seven habits of highly-effective customer experience leaders


Stephen R. Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold over 25 million copies since its publication. What does it tell us about how customer experience leaders should be spending their time?

25th Jun 2021

When I read the best-selling business book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, it struck me that the points he highlights are not only fundamental for successful human behaviour, but also rung true for some of the best people I have seen in the field of customer experience management.

So as a CX professional, how do you measure up to these habits?

Habit 1: Be proactive

There is a difference between the circle of concern and the circle of influence. The circle of concern consists of all the things that are outside your control, like the weather, the economy and mistakes that others make. The circle of influence consists of all the things you can control: like your skills, what you learn or your attitude. If you’re reactive, you’ll keep complaining about the things that are out of your control and get nowhere. If you’re proactive, you’ll not only not complain about the things you can do nothing about, but you’ll find out what you can do to improve the situation.

The best leaders in CX leaders are proactive. They don’t focus too much on the negative parts of CX that they cannot control, such as those occasional difficult customers who make a mistake in the online order process and try to pass it off as a faulty website. In that situation, do you put all your time and effort into finding out who made the mistake? Or, do you fully invest in what you can control, and do everything in your power to put the smile back on the face of the customer, and do everything in your power to improve the ordering system so that mistakes – even those made by customers – almost never happen again.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

Covey argues successful people have a sort of “map” in their minds. They determine their life goals and then develop a plan on how to get there.

Similarly, Amazon has a list of Leadership Principles, and at the top of that list is “Customer Obsession”: “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

I believe a company can only be great at CX if it starts with ‘the end’, with the customer – not its own ideas or processes or whatever seems more important at the time – and works backwards from there.

Habit 3: Put first things first

Prioritising may sound easy, but we all know that sometimes we get stuck in answering emails or in meetings that are actually a lot less important or urgent than what we really should be doing.

In CX, for me the priority is pretty simple: always focus on Joy (as explained in my video below), or the things that make customers happy. All the other things may seem important, but they really aren’t, when you compare them to “Joy”.

Habit 4: Think win-win

In business, if there’s a loser and a winner – even if that winner is you – the situation is out of balance and will end up becoming toxic. Put simply, if you are a highly effective CX leader, both your company and the customer ought to win.

Today’s reality is that a simple trade-off between financial value (for you) and product or service value (for the customer) no longer suffices – customers today want a ‘Partner in Life’ for themselves, and a company that does good for the planet and society as well. So, Covey’s Win-Win idea has probably morphed into something like Win (for the company) – Win² (for the customer) – Win (for planet and society) when it comes to CX.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, and then to be understood

You cannot understand someone’s perspective and feelings unless you really listen to them. And really listening to your customers to understand them isn’t as simple as it seems.

When I interviewed CEO of Hello Customer, Leslie Cottenjé, I learned that happy customers will rarely tell you that they are fulfilled by what you sell and how you treat them. The voices we do hear are those of the angry and very critical customers. We definitely should pay attention to them, but they are typically still a minority.

For CX, this is where data and AI comes in. Technology allows you to find patterns, give a voice to the important silent majority, and it may surprise you that the things you thought were very big issues turn out to be not such a big deal across the entire customer base. When it comes to customer expectation, it’s important to know who you are listening to, who you should be listening to and keep trying to see the bigger picture.

Habit 6: Synergise

Different people bring different opinions, ideas, perspectives, and strengths to the table, so we should celebrate and value this difference. The most effective CX leaders understand that it takes a network to satisfy customers and so encourage employees to collaborate across silo’s, or even collaborate with competitors at times.

Why would car company Toyota collaborate with city designers, architects and software companies to create a fantastically advanced smart city project? Because they recognise that mobility is changing so fast that cars probably won’t be a big part of cities in the future. Or why did McDonalds collaborate with Uber Eats for their delivery, instead of creating their own chain? Synergising with the right partners will always result in a better, faster, more efficient and more frictionless experience for your customers.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

In Covey’s book, he describes a man cutting down a tree with a blunt saw. Someone else advises him that sharpening the saw would save him time, but the man refuses, saying he doesn’t have time to sharpen his saw because he has to cut this tree down.

This anecdote reminds me of those company leaders who are so busy with day-to-day CX work and cleaning up yesterday’s CX messes that they forget to think about the future. This often means they miss out on emerging technologies that could transform their customer experience, such as AI, blockchain, 5G or IoT. They may seem like buzzwords, but if your competition is already investigating they could have a head start in starting to steal away customers because they offer better, faster and more frictionless services. It may be too late to “sharpen the saw” but I’d argue that however busy you are, there is always time to investigate how you could make your offering faster, better and more enjoyable.

Steven van Belleghem is one of the world’s leading thought-leaders, speakers and authors on customer experience. His new book, The Offer You Can’t Refuse is out now. See

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Shaun Myers
By Shaun Myers
15th Jul 2021 16:42

Great concise summary / adaptation of 7 habits - love the Joy video - thank you!!

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