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Getting Used to Being in High Places

Customer Experience

Getting Used to Being in High Places image Sarah2This post marks another installment in my series on lessons from the high country.  In this series, I share with you some wisdom the mountains have taught me that can be applied to your Voice of Customer and Customer Experience initiatives.

What the Mountain Teaches
We are enjoying a beautiful day of climbing on Sheeprock, a bold granite dome in the South Platte region of Colorado.  Warm April sunshine rains down on us all day, and we share the crag briefly with a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, ewes and lambs moving over challenging terrain with effortless grace.  Three pitches (sections of climbing between belay anchors approximately the length of your rope) of technical climbing bring us to a wide open rocky summit pitted with potholes full of sun-warmed water.
After a brief snack and picture-taking, we begin our descent, which will include a two-stage rappel.  The first rappel is a pleasant glide down the bulbous granite face of Sheeprock – no problems.  It was the bottom of the first rappel that things got interesting, as four of us lined up like sardines at a canning factory on a tiny little ledge.  When I say “tiny,” I mean I had to either stand on my toes or turn my climbing shoes sideways to stand on the ledge.  No one seemed to mind but me. The longer I stood there with my left calf cramping, the more unpleasant the experience became. To be honest, I wanted off that ledge “right now!” but knew I had to just be patient and tolerate the situation.  Still, waves of mild panic kept washing over me and I was clearly unhappy to be stuck like a fly on a granite wall tethered to the mountain by a mere daisy chain (a type of modified climbing sling).

When it at long last was my turn to descend from that micro-ledge, I fumbled with my ATC (rappel/belay device), setting the teeth in the wrong direction, which would have resulted in less friction and a less-controlled descent.  I finally stepped off that too-small ledge, not a moment too soon, and merrily returned to the waiting earth below.  The rest of the party soon followed and we re-coiled the ropes for the scramble back to our gear.

Getting Used to Being in High Places image Sarah3 On the outhike, I did a sort of post-event evaluation to try to understand just why this incident got to me so badly.  On the one hand, it’s perfectly logical for most people to be uncomfortable 50 or so feet off the ground, literally hanging by a thread, surrounded by air.  But I’m not “most people,” I’m a mountain climber, and being perched up high in the sky on tiny little ledges is part of the game.  Quite simply, I needed to get more used to being in high places.  And as we say in the climbing world, the best way to learn to deal with exposure is to deal with exposure.  Game on!

Applying This to Customer Experience
Once upon a time, market insights professionals could hide in a dark basement office and never see the light of the c-suite.  Marketing merrily served as the conduit between the insights we generated and the decision makers that consumed them.  Marketing’s attitude toward market intelligence workers was something like, “Stay in your dark basement cave, strange little analytical one, we’ll handle the execs for you.”  In fact, some of us were mysterious, Merlin-esque business clairvoyants – pocket protectors and SPSS Syntax – who no one would dare present to the executive team.  Years ago, as a junior researcher, I attended a Burke conference during which the instructor implored us to be thought leaders and not order takers.  We looked at each other and then at him and said: Yeah, right, who are you kidding?

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My, how times have changed!

Today, we are the direct conduit of insights between the customer and the decision makers.  Some of the strongest VoC / CX teams I’ve admired have a direct seat at the executive table, with a Chief Customer Officer confidently positioned among the heads of sales, marketing, operations and finance.  As the customer has migrated to the center of many business models, so has our role migrated to the front and center within our organizations.  No mere order takers, our VoC / CX strategies are used by key decision makers to drive customer-centric improvements.

But as the status of VoC / CX increases, so does the risk we as individuals expose ourselves to.  Sure, there’s glory in high places, but being way up high for extended periods of time can get a little scary.  There’s no more retreating to the dark research dungeon, no more letting marketing be our mouthpiece.  We now stand as the voice of our customer within the c-suite.  Forget blending into the warm cozy background, my friend; Customer Experience is an increasingly high-profile gig these days.

As a Customer Experience practitioner, you can’t afford to be afraid of heights.  It’s time to get used to being in high places.  Assume that airy perch with confidence.

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