The biggest enemy of customer strategies

15th Mar 2010

The success of any customer strategy is predicated on the organisation’s capacity for change. Many strategies have failed because the strategies’ owners didn’t understand their organisations’ capacity and reluctance to consider all things new. There are numerous motivations for such reluctance, including stubbornness, short-sightedness, self-denial, fear and even pride. We’ll consider these and other motivations in greater detail in a moment, but let’s pause to consider that matter of pride — a very powerful human emotion. Proposed change can be perceived from two different perspectives:

  • We’ve failed. We’ve not done our job, and now we have to get our act together.
  • We’ve done well, but now we’re going to take our successes to the next level.
Remember that those affected by the change are human, with sensitivities and feelings. No matter how much logic you use in presenting change, if you hurt those affected, you will have incredible difficulty in establishing buy-in on the short-term and in reversing hurt feelings on the long term. A core strategy in change management, therefore, is invoking the second of the two possible perspectives about change by recognising and appreciating past achievements, even if you won’t be retaining all of their principles moving forward. This will build a bridge of good will among employees called upon to execute the new initiative.
Even with this foundation, however, and even though transformation is not optional in this rapidly evolving world, not everyone will understand, accept, and/or cooperate with this challenge. In business, one thing never changes: everyone loves change as long as they aren’t the ones that have to change.
During a client engagement, I worked with an organisation operating in a commoditised market and facing intense competition, heightened pricing pressures, and threats to its core value proposition. Given this environment, we expected at least a moderate sense urgency and cooperation. What we met instead were challenges and obstacles at every turn. Meetings were constantly delayed or canceled, and approvals were routed through a seemingly endless list of decision-makers. In one instance, a single customer questionnaire was subjected to more scrutiny than any document that I’ve ever seen in my entire career.
Overnight, executives became linguists obsessed with ensuring that every word was reviewed and reviewed and reviewed again. The purpose of the survey — to engage customers and identify their challenges — was ignored in favor of grammatical niceties, to the pleasure of English professors worldwide but not to the executives staring at the bottom line. One executive even "cleverly" announced that he didn’t have the time to review the questionnaire — enabling him to question the validity of the results later on (since he never had the time to review the questions before the survey was deployed).
That executive aside, most of the executives who resist change will posit that their seemingly endless list of excuses and delays results only from their strong interest to "get things right". I will argue that these executives simply don’t want to face their predicament of having to face change.
As I said, some things never change.
If you’re responsible for implementing a customer strategy, you must identify and then overcome such resistance to allow the strategy to be internalised and adopted throughout your organisation.
The resistance you receive often takes the form of what we call the Seven Great Escapes:
  1. "I don’t believe in it."
  2. "Interesting idea, but I need to see another analysis and then design a series of focus groups before we revisit the concept."
  3. "Emotional engagement? You’re kidding, right?"
  4. "It’s not my job. Focus on the customer-facing people."
  5. "I don’t know how to do it."
  6. "So you think I’ve been messing up the way I’ve always handled things?"
  7. The most common and dangerous Escape — "I’m already doing it."
Your responses:
  1. "I don’t believe in it." Belief has nothing to do with it. It is about a business strategy to maximize revenues and profits.
  2. "Interesting idea, but I need to see another analysis and then design a series of focus groups before we revisit the concept." Delays lead to lost revenue.
  3. "Emotional engagement? You’re kidding, right?" Customers are emotional. Branding is about emotions. We need to connect emotionally to create loyalty.
  4. "It’s not my job. Focus on the customer-facing people." It is your job. Everyone is in the customer business. Your leadership sets the tone for the whole organisation.
  5. "I don’t know how to do it." That’s a legitimate concern. We’ll provide the support you need to succeed.
  6. "So you think I’ve been messing up the way I’ve always handled things?" Not at all, but now we have some exciting new opportunities to explore.
  7. The most common and dangerous Escape — "I’m already doing it." Your response to this assertion must be considerably more detailed. It’s a problem you usually encounter when all indicators point to vigorous, companywide support for introducing customer experience strategies.
The biggest enemy of customer strategies, therefore, is not the lack of funds or resources. It’s not lack of ability or expertise. It’s refusal to admit current reality. Executives must fully understand what’s wrong with the way they currently run their operation and what customer-centricity is all about. Before devising any sort of strategy, you must confront the "We’re already doing it" attitude head on. Organisations must fully understand how their current way of doing business differs from interacting with customers in a customer-centric way.
An excerpt from the upcoming book Customer Experience Strategy – The Complete Guide From Innovation to Execution (4i, 2010).
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, a glogal customer experience research and consulting firm. Follow Lior on Twitter: @LiorStrativity

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By mbrewer
15th Mar 2010 17:47

Good list of objections and soem really relevant comments.  But the 'Your Response' seems unlikely to be helpful, in my opinion.  The suggested responses are highly confrontational and illustrate why so many customer evangelists fail.  You must win hearts and minds in a far more subtle manner, which means more than contradicting the objections made by managers or others. 

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