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Five rules for building a customer experience team

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Colin Shaw shares the benefit of his experience, providing tips that have helped him build customer experience teams for client organisations. 

8th Feb 2022
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My global Customer Experience consultancy, Beyond Philosophy, has been recognised by Financial Times as one of the leading management consultancy organisations for the past three years. People have asked me how I did it, to which I quickly reply, "loads of bribery." However, the truth is I built an excellent team. So, today, we will look at the five rules for building a successful customer experience team. 

Before I get into the rules, let me explain that I know these rules work. I have used them many, many times. Interestingly enough, I was asked by a client the other day to help them with some recruitment and sit in on the interviews of the candidates. So, if you're trying to build a successful team, I hope these help.

The five rules for building a successful CX team

  1. Employ people who are good at strategic thinking but who are practical doers. 
  2. Build a team with a high EQ or emotional intelligence.
  3. Have respect for cross-silo understanding. 
  4. Find people who can deal with conflict but with integrity.
  5. Employ people with natural communication skills. 

Let's take a closer look at each of them, shall we?

Rule #1: Employ people who are good at strategic thinking but who are practical doers. 

I based this first rule upon the name of our company, Beyond Philosophy. I named it that because you must get "beyond the philosophy" and do something. Along those same lines of thinking, it is also important to employ people who can strategise a plan for success, but you also need people who can do something with that strategy. Ideally, it would be great to have one person who did both, but those are a rare breed. 

Thinking strategically is essential to your customer experience team. The strategy encompasses tasks like determining the experience you want to deliver, what emotions you want to evoke, understanding the organisation's direction, and each area's profitability, and so on. 

However, it is also essential to have people that can put these ideas into motion and do something. This area is where many organisations have problems. They employ clever people to make the plan but don't have practical people to pick it up and carry out the plan. People in high-level positions can lose touch and intellectualise everything. Unfortunately, the intellectual approach doesn't always work in the real world without modification. A great idea that is impractical to implement is useless. It would be best to have a team with complementary skills to make a fantastic organisation. 

Rule #2: Build a team with a high EQ or emotional intelligence. 

There are two forms of intelligence. First, there's how quickly you can process data, which we call IQ. Then, there is emotional intelligence, or EQ, which is an idea based on a book by the same name by Daniel Goleman. Goleman says that it is a form of intelligence to understand how you and other people feel and manage those emotions. 

Both forms of intelligence are essential. However, the person with the highest IQ isn't necessarily the best leader. Often, the best leader is the person with the ability to get on with people and understand how emotions play into the team. Also, the ability to read people allows them to understand customer emotions.

Often we think of intelligence narrowly in terms of memory for facts or ability to do mathematics or some of these other things. Some artistic talents and emotional intelligence can get overlooked or underappreciated. One of the keys to good leadership is being sensitive to other peoples' needs.

Rule #3: Have respect for those with a cross-silo understanding. 

When you're trying to build a successful team, you want those team members to understand the perspective of several departments in the organisation. For example, if you have only worked in marketing, you likely appreciate the view of the marketing team. Still, you do not understand other perspectives, like customer service or human resources teams'. Without that understanding, the people in those departments will not be as open to you as someone who understood their view of the organisation from their various departmental silos. 

The best customer experience plan in the world will fail unless you have the key stakeholders within an organisation on board.

Understanding those crossover points between departments is often underestimated also. A problem area from the customer experience perspective results from the lack of good handover between those groups. Another problem area is the lack of understanding of the value chains in each of those departments. A person who has that experience will improve those handovers. They can also recognise the problems changes in customer experience cause people and fix them for the people involved. 

The best customer experience plan in the world will fail unless you have the key stakeholders within an organisation on board. So, you need to recruit multiple people from various points within the organisation to support the plan and get it off the ground. Without that support, your project is not going anywhere. 

Rule #4: Find people who can deal with conflict but with integrity. 

Conflict is an unfortunate byproduct of improving the customer experience. People don't like change. I always put it this way, "everyone's happy until you ask them to do something." From a customer experience perspective, that means everyone is happy about drawing up strategic ideas on whiteboards, but when it comes down to making change, that's when their hackles rise. 

The Customer Experience team must be able to deal with that conflict. However, they must also be able to do so without giving the impression that they have a plan outside of what is best for the customer. 

Please note that I didn't say they reduce conflict or avoid conflict. If you try that, the battle will just come out in an unhealthy way, like a plan for sabotage or creating a toxic work environment. 

If you have the conflict out in the open, then it can be resolved. Even if everyone is not happy with it, everyone at least understands and respects the decision. Stomping your foot and smashing down any opposition will not have good results in the long run. 

I had to let an admin go because she wasn't good at dealing with conflict. She was unable to say no to people. As a result, she overcommitted and underdelivered. We tried to get her to take on less and explain that we didn't want her to work around the clock and all that, but she kept getting underwater. It came down to she didn't like telling other people she couldn't do it because she didn't like conflict. 

Rule #5: Employ people with natural communication skills. 

Communication is essential, particularly in a role like customer experience. However, it is also vital how they talk about things to people. Your customer experience team should be able to speak at a senior level and a shop-floor level. 

Sometimes people with a high IQ have a hard time simplifying things for people. Unfortunately, that makes it hard for people to understand them and puts a wedge in the communication. I used to tell one intellectual member of my team to explain it to me like he would his mates down at the pub. He did, but it still took two or three times before I understood (which might have been my problem, not his). The ability to simplify the complex for people is a fundamental skill and enables communication in the organisation. 

Telling stories is another way to enable excellent communication. If you can draw a parallel by telling somebody an anecdote or draw a parallel with a real-world example, it brings the concept down to earth. For example, one of the things we do in training is to have the participants bring examples of good customer experiences. Then we break down those experiences and show our participants how to use them in the organisation's new customer experience plan. We find that this exercise makes the concepts of customer-centric customer experience "real" for them.

That's it, the five rules for building a successful customer experience team. As I mentioned, I know these rules work because I use them all the time, building customer experience teams for organisations and the team at Beyond Philosophy. Moreover, these rules apply to most teams, not only customer experience teams. In many ways, these are five rules for building a team of people who work with other people - and that's most of us. 

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