What change management can teach us about delivering successful CX programmes
John Kotter’s book Leading Change should be a standard text for the CX field. And while he provides eight steps to applying change management in an organisation to ensure efforts are sustained, most CX programmes go off the rails in the first three.
You probably moved into customer experience (CX) because of a passion for customers. You chose this space because you know that if you can improve customers’ experiences with your company, they will be happier, they’ll stay with you longer, and both the business and your customers will prosper.
But actually improving the experience is hard.
If you’re like most of the 85 CX professionals we’ve interviewed so far this year, the reality has hit you that it’s incredibly difficult to move your silos enough to substantially improve the customer experience. That’s where change management comes in. It’s the missing element in most CX programmes.
Mark Smith, formerly the VP of CX at Element Fleet Solutions, discussed this when I interviewed him a few years back. We work with a few programmes which build their programme around change management. One B2B client has 7 people in their CX programme, with two dedicated to change management. So it’s not too surprising that they’ve accomplished far more in their CX transformation in their three years than others have in ten.
I just returned from vacation, where I read John Kotter’s book Leading Change, and it should be a standard text in our field.
We’re big believers in change management; we built our approach around Prosci’s ADKAR change management framework. Kotter supplements ADKAR by offering a clear guide for how to apply change management in an organisation to ensure efforts are sustained. While he has eight steps, most programmes go off the rails in the first three.
First, create a sense of urgency
The best programmes tie customer experience to a business problem. Customer churn, low share of wallet, and high effort (and therefore costs) to serve are all customer problems that also hurt the business. These are compelling calls to action.
Unfortunately, most CX programmes fail to create a compelling need for the business to change. The typical call to action is, “Our survey scores are low – we need to improve the Net Promoter Score.” Effective programmes start with a business problem – and a low survey score ain’t it.
Build a guiding coalition
Effective programmes engage leadership, typically through a CX Council made up of organizational leaders.
Do you want to frustrate a CX practitioner? Then talk about governance – the practice of involving senior leadership to review the current state of the customer experience and guide its implementation. I’ve talked with multiple programmes that say, “We’re not ready for governance.” I connect with them two years later and hear “We’re just not making any progress!”
Huh. Who would have guessed?
You can’t sustain an improved customer experience without involving leadership. Active involvement. And that involves their time. If you can’t create a guiding coalition that includes your VPs, then you can’t create sustained change. It’s hard work – but the time you take to engage leadership in the beginning will save you time as you implement your changes.
Form a strategic vision
Create a vision to show employees where you are going. An effective vision allows employees to make decisions when you’re not in the room. Is your goal to be the simplest experience? If so, then a vision should show the way, encouraging your teams to cut out high-effort activities.
I remember interviewing one CX leader who said, “Our vision is to be the most flexible, but also the simplest experience, while maintaining our role as a low-cost provider.”
That’s not a vision. That’s a menu. The best programmes make trade-offs, and a vision helps employees to do this.
CX is great at forming initiatives. And initiatives are good. But only once you’ve created the case for change, formed the guiding coalition, and shared a vision. Because sustaining effective CX change is hard. If you don’t have executives backing you up and restating the case for change, your programmes will be deprioritized for sexier ones.
Kotter gives tons of examples of programmes who jumped right to initiatives, hoping to show the organization that a better CX improves the business. These programmes almost always die on the vine, because they can’t get the support they need.
Real customer-focused change is possible, and we see a limited number of companies to inspire us. These programmes have taken the time to create a compelling case for change that shows why an improved CX will result in an improved business. They then engage the executives into a change coalition and build a vision of an improved future state.
So, before you head out on your summer vacation, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Kotter’s book. While it’s not a CX book, it will give you a solid framework for creating happier customers and a healthier business.
Jim sees the world in a special way: through the eyes of customers.
With a lifelong passion for customer experience, Jim founded Heart of the Customer to help companies of all sizes increase customer engagement. Before launching the company, Jim led customer engagement initiatives at Best Buy and UnitedHealth Group. In the process, he...