As the customer experience continues to grow in importance and influence, leaders should step up to champion and guide their organization through the transformation journey.

What can leaders do to make improvements within their organizations?

As I talk with organizations in healthcare, insurance, financial services and retail, it’s become very clear that Customer Experience (“CX”) is increasingly on people’s minds. Customers have many options for interacting with companies whenever and wherever they wish, but this can be frustrating for customers – and employees – when your company’s mobile apps, websites, call centers or customer-facing processes fail to provide a positive touch point or moment of truth.

Bad things happen when the customer experience suffers:

  • If you’re lucky, customers switch to other company communication channels, which raises their frustration level and increases your costs. If you’re unlucky, they flee to competitors who provide a better customer experience.
  • Customer loyalty and your brand promise are weakened. Our job as leaders is to provide value to customers by removing obstacles and making it easy and enjoyable to do business with us. If we are difficult to work with, our customers lose faith. In a worst-case scenario, unhappy customers express their unhappiness through social media and across their personal and professional networks.

Why Leadership Matters for Customer Experience

As CX continues to grow in importance and influence, leaders should step up to champion and guide their organization through the CX transformation journey. What can leaders do to make CX improvements within their organizations?

Based on our research and observations, there are several best practices for Customer Experience leaders:

  • Establish end-to-end accountability. Good customer experiences require change across all parts of the organization, not just marketing or customer support. As the Chief Customer Officer of Peoplefluent puts it, “By merging all customer-facing roles from pre- to post- sales into a singular accountable organization, we align the business to deliver a single complete customer solution. In doing so, we are driving all business and product decisions around best customer outcomes.”
  • Design experiences rather than processes. I’d highly recommend reading “Change by Design” by Tim Brown. This book introduces the idea of design thinking, which is a collaborative process by which design methods are employed to match people’s needs with not only with what is technically feasible but also viable to your company’s business strategy. This enables us to reframe problems and opportunities by taking the customer’s perspective. The former Chief Operating Officer at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance put it this way: “Many companies lose sight of the experience they’re creating for their customers. Processes form organically over time, and few organizations consider the customer experience as a whole, let alone explicitly design, implement, and measure it consistently across the board.”
  • Shift the culture. Arguably, the biggest challenge facing leaders is with culture and team organization. CX transformations require a shift from advisory and “ivory tower” positions to more operationally structured positions. Some organizations are reorganizing all marketing and sales functions to report directly to the CX executive, while others are putting customer quality and sales/distribution networks under the direct control of a CX executive. This operational control makes it easier to influence and drive culture change within and across the organization.

Leadership Recommendations for Customer Experience

Are you passionate about improving the customer experience for your organization? The first step on the journey to leading customer experience projects is identifying the problem areas that need attention. Here’s a Top 10 list of recommendations to help get you started. We’d love to hear your feedback and personal experiences.

  1. Flex your analytical insights. Data from your company’s analytics platform and internal operations systems — such as call centers — can help identify CX pain points because it separates fact from fiction.
  2. Conduct expert reviews of the web, mobile, and other digital touchpoints. These are quick and inexpensive ways to determine what’s currently broken.
  3. Talk with real customers. Companies want to do right by their customers, but it’s easy for back office and operations staff to get out-of-sync with customer experience. To quell internal debates and focus on CX project priorities, integrate feedback from real customers on an ongoing basis.
  4. Embrace a user-centered design process. The right customer experience implemented the right way, doesn’t just happen. Instead, it must be designed. This requires learning and committing to a user-centered design process.
  5. Take advantage of digital touch points. Websites, smartphones, tablets, sensors and other digital touchpoints offer unique ways for customers to connect with your company — and each other. However, they also have unique characteristics and capabilities that have a big influence on the customer experience. We need to abandon a one-size-fits-all approach and design digital touch points with these differences in mind.
  6. Get outside help where you need it. Building in-house teams have the advantage of deep business and industry knowledge but it’s difficult for any but the most sophisticated internal teams to do it all themselves.
  7. Deliver today and plan for tomorrow. CX leaders put great efforts into the initial launch — but that’s just day one. What happens on day twenty through two hundred? Avoid the pitfalls of companies that launched successfully, only to end up with unmaintained website content and orphan apps that annoy customers. Make sure CX gets ongoing attention.
  8. Bolster your company’s responsiveness. Whether you’re fixing a usability bug, gutting your website, or launching a new mobile app, these decisions shape your customer’s experience in some way. Unfortunately, the customer experiences that many companies deliver can dilute — or contradict — their brand promise.
  9. Define and measure CX performance metrics. Customer experience projects are not likely to get funded without some benefit to the organization. To get initial funding and ongoing support, measure and communicate the impact of customer experience against business metrics for your organization.
  10. Unify the offline and online customer experience. The digital customer experience is distributed across apps, websites and devices. It’s also becoming increasingly connected with physical places and things through mobile messaging, push notifications and sensors. Customers increasingly expect and demand the ability to interact through multiple channels at any given moment — which is forcing organizations to ensure they provide a consistent customer experience across all these interactions. Otherwise, they risk diluting their value proposition and frustrating customers.

Be a leader by being proactive—no matter what your role is in the organization.  When you observe or identify an issue or opportunity to improve your organization’s customer experience, don’t just let it go or assume someone else will take care of it.  Do what you can, whether it’s helping an individual client have a better experience or working with the right people to address a more systemic CX opportunity.