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CEM maturity model pt 1: Assessing your customer-centric vision

3rd Apr 2019

A checklist to enable you to assess the maturity of your organisation's customer vision.

MyCustomer recently highlighted the growing popularity of the CEM maturity model - a framework created by DHL Global, in collaboration with Ovum, Gallup and the University of Strathclyde, designed to gauge and steer the development of customer experience management programmes. 

Across five articles, we dissect a different dimension of the CEM maturity model, along with questions that organisations should ask themselves to assess their customer experience maturity and identify any gaps between CX performance and aspiration. Also included are a number of proven measures that companies can take to close any gaps that are identified.

The maturity model works regardless what business you are in and it is equally insightful for companies that are just embarking on their CEM journey or are already well underway.

In this first part, we'll explore the vision your organisation needs to have, and a checklist for you to gauge how developed your vision is. 

Having a customer-centric vision for the company

Companies tend to confuse vision with strategy. Strategies tend to be designed to achieve certain business outputs and initiatives are defined to give immediate direction to the different line functions or departments. Inevitably that makes them inward directed and short-sighted. An overarching customer-centric vision is a constant that shapes your strategy that tends to be adjusted over time. A compelling vision gives people a sense of purpose that is based on shared brand and cultural values. It tells everyone where the company is heading and helps people to put their daily job into a wider context that goes beyond simply completing their tasks.

If everyone has the same understanding of the vision and values of the company then they will be able to collaborate more easily together as they are working to achieve the same goals. Also, they are more likely to interact with customers in a similar way which makes the overall experience they have working with a company more consistent regardless who they deal with, when and where. So, vision is an essential starting point for any CEM programme. Without having a clear vision for the company there is no point taking the development of a CEM programme any further. It will be sure to surface at a later stage and both confuse the people and delay the process.

Listed below are a few questions leadership teams need to ask themselves and for which they need to have a consensus view. Depending on how far your CEM programme has evolved some questions can be answered with more certainty than others. Over time it is important that you can answer every question favourably.

Vision assessment

  • Do we share a clear vision of what the company aspires to be in the future?
  • Is our vision realistic and achievable?
  • Does this vision guide my daily decision-making?
  • Are the benefits we offer our customers relevant to our customers and do they distinguish us from our competitors?
  • Does everyone that works in the company have a clear understanding of the overall benefits we offer our customers?
  • Are my colleagues led by our vision when doing their work?

Defining a company vision seems straightforward. However, it is often the most time-consuming part of the entire CEM process. There are no shortcuts to defining a meaningful vision that an organisation can embrace and that gives direction to the decisions the leadership team make. The leadership teams needs to define their vision themselves. The process is complicated, tedious and time-consuming.

How to put to paper what defines the essence of a company? If done well the output is short, succinct and compelling. Many companies let only very few senior people participate in the exercise which is typically lead by external consultants. Developing a vision in this way rarely produces the right results for two reasons. Firstly it is important to create a consensus among the entire leadership team. Whether this is the board of directors, board of management or an extended senior leadership team.

All those who together have the line responsibility for everyone in the company need to fully buy in to and embrace the vision for it to be cascaded through the organisation successfully. If only a few people have made the journey to develop a vision then others inevitably feel that it is not theirs and imposed on them.

Defining a company vision seems straightforward. However, it is often the most time-consuming part of the entire CEM process.

Secondly, it is essential that the leadership itself comes up with the vision for the company and does not rely on external people to define it. Consultants can assist the leadership team by facilitating the process and accompanying them along the way. However, when thoughts and ideas around the company and its future come from people external to the company then they tend to extinguish as soon as the consultants’ assignment ends. A good way to kick-start the process and prepare the leadership team is to expose them to thought leaders and how they go about it for themselves. The Disney Institute and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center are excellent providers of such services.

A good vision needs to provide simple answers to three questions: who you are, what you do and how you do it.

The who-question is answered by defining a common purpose statement. Everyone needs to share the same overarching purpose of the company to give meaning to their daily work. So they can see beyond their day-to-day tasks and understand the importance of their role in the greater scheme of things. A common purpose can be a sentence or set of key words. Whichever way you formulate it the statement needs to reflect the essence of what the company is all about in a simple and short way. The common purpose is often also referred to as the DNA of the company.

The what-question is answered by defining the value proposition the company offers its customers. It implies that you have a clear understanding of who your customers are. Talking to customers is the only way to get to an answer. Most people tend to feel they have a very good understanding of what customers want. However, each person also tends to have a different understanding. Here an extensive process of doing qualitative research (focus group interviews, in-depth interviews,…) and quantitative research (online surveys, CATI,…) is indispensable. Complimenting this research with customer meetings where they can speak directly and freely with members of the leadership team to say what they expect from you and what they like and dislike about your company is recommended. What you need to end up with is a set of attributes that describe what value the company provides its customers that are relevant for customers and distinguish the company from its competitors.

To make it more concrete and easier to communicate it helps to list up some proof points that explain in very practical terms what each value proposition statement means. The value proposition has to stand the test of time and like the common purpose should not be changed in the short term. In this context it needs to reflect what the organisation is capable of delivering today to an extent, but should still be aspirational enough that it can continuously improve itself and so improve the delivery of its value proposition.

The how-question is answered by defining the culture of the company. If every company that targets the same customers in the same market segment did its homework properly then the value proposition of each company would be rather similar. What sets one company apart from another is its organisational culture.

What are the cultural values that drive the behaviour of the people? This is what determines how you interact with each other in the company, but also how customers perceive you when your employees interact with them. Having a strong culture is essential for the people to feel they belong and motivate themselves to come to the office every day. It also sends a message to existing and prospective customers how they can expect to be treated if they do business with you. Some companies use a carefully crafted sentence to describe their culture whereas others prefer to use a set of key words or sentences to capture it.

Kim MacGillavry is the former vice president, customer experience, of DHL Freight. Alan Wilson is professor of marketing at Strathclyde University.


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