What does it really mean to “walk the customer experience talk”? Executive sponsorship is certainly essential, yet there’s so much more to it. An ironic byproduct of any customer engagement effort is that it intrinsically sets up expectations — externally and internally. Walking the customer experience talk means you are following through on expectations you’re setting with customers, employees, channel partners and alliances. It actually means the whole company is getting its act together to deliver what it promised to customers.
Why Does the Walk Matter?
Actions speak louder than words. Words that aren’t backed up by congruent actions are empty. Empty words breed disillusion, distrust, disgust, and departure. These negatives lead to wasted time, unnecessary costs, negative word of mouth, opportunity costs, and missed revenue.
What managers say about customer experience must be backed by congruent decision-making and behaviors. Employees see right through inconsistencies in tone, sincerity and substance.
And so do customers! Regardless of what you declare as your brand promises, customers will see your company in terms of your people’s behaviors — not just the behaviors of customer-facing people, but everyone who sets and drives policies, processes, and handoffs throughout your company and its broader ecosystem.
Walking the customer experience talk means customers’ well-being overarches your list of corporate values, and is the reality for what gets people ahead or not.
Here are the prerequisites:
Walk the Talk Prerequisite #1: Double-check Your Priorities
Put your money where your mouth is! Every decision you make indicates whose interests you’re putting first. If it’s not crystal clear to those around you that customers’ well-being is your foremost concern, then you’re not walking the customer experience talk.
See how SunTrust’s C-team focused on putting clients 1st as their guiding principle, emphasizing client voice in their decision-making processes: Customer First Drives Business Performance.
As stated in this article series’ first post, Customer-Centered Business: 10 Keys to Organic Growth:
Centering your business on customers means nothing is done in a vacuum: customers’ realities are the context for everything everyone does. Customer-centered business means your rituals and decision-making honor customers’ realities and needs as the pathway to meeting the needs of every stakeholder: employees, investors, partners, community, etc. This puts the horse before the cart. Feed the hand that feeds you and you will be fed.
Walking the customer experience talk requires ongoing evidence that you believe all your needs will be met by aligning all you do with what’s important to customers.
Walk the Talk Prerequisite #2: Double-check Your Alignment
Create a hand-in-glove experience! Everything the customer perceives about their journey with you indicates your right-fit or ill-fit for them. Synchronization of attitudes, intentions, ecosystem, structure, and offerings is not only about driving positive word of mouth. It minimizes waste, allowing you to re-channel precious resources to higher value for all, i.e. it creates annuities.
See how a British Columbia credit union adopted a customer-centric strategy as the company’s strategy, re-organized to align their leadership talents and functional accountability around customer experience, and achieved unanimous support among all managers and employees: Customer Experience ROI Trajectory.
When I led customer experience transformation at Applied Materials, my team taught every business unit, account team, and functional area how to align their work with customers’ needs:
As stated in this article series’ second post, What is Customer Experience Strategy?, alignment must be thorough across every nook and cranny of your business:
Nobody is exempt from playing a role in your customer experience strategy. Whether they knew it or not before now, they already are playing a role. They may or may not be playing their role in accordance with inputs from customers (i.e. their ultimate boss). Who really succeeds by being oblivious to their boss’ inputs? You need to guide everyone in doing their part.
Walking the customer experience talk requires inherent evidence that customers are at the center of your thinking.
Walk the Talk Prerequisite #3: Influence Everyday Thinking
Center your thinking on customers! That’s what customer-centricity is. “Centric” = the center of one’s attention.
Executive sponsorship of customer experience excellence is a make-or-break factor in ongoing progress and business results. Yet walking the customer experience talk means much more than senior management figureheads demonstrating enthusiasm for high survey ratings and customer retention. It’s about top management demonstrating an unquenchable thirst for customer insights. Story-telling about customers’ realities at every opportunity is essential. Conveying humility to adapt to customers’ priorities is a must.
Customer-centered hiring and promotion criteria are pivotal to customer-centered thinking throughout your company. What gets people ahead, or not, is the litmus test for your company’s actual values.
Internal messaging can educate, remind, and build empathy about customers’ realities and goals. In the days of printed paychecks, Applied Materials reminded employees on their pay stub: “Your payroll dollars are made possible by satisfied customers”. Use customer insights as context for every topic possible, in meetings, training, announcements, and endeavors. “Wallpaper employees’ world” with customer insights. Emphasize specifics about what each department can do to make a difference for customers.
Walking the customer experience talk requires consistent evidence that customers are at the center of your doing.
Walk the Talk Prerequisite #4: Influence Everyday Doing
Demonstrate “customers first” daily! Doing the right things right the first time and every time is surely the wish of every manager. But what is “right”? Whoever holds the purse strings knows — and of course customers are the ultimate purse-string holders. When customers leave, investors leave, not the other way around.
At the end of the day, what you do is who you are. And it goes well beyond customer-facing staff. True outside-in businesses engage every job level and every functional area in proactive management of their respective ripple effects on customers.
Training can educate executives and employees about customer-focused communication, customer experience management principles and tools, and collaborative skills.
Even more powerful, though, are the recommendations in the preceding sections of this article, setting everyone up for success in demonstrating customers first daily.
What gets measured gets done: establish clear performance criteria (e.g. S.M.A.R.T. goals*) and monitor and reward behaviors that make a difference for customers. The right metrics for your intended results can be ensured by conducting root cause analysis (e.g. ask “why” 5 times) for the key drivers of customer experience excellence (e.g. statistical correlation factors for loyalty).
Driving systemic improvements to prevent recurrence of chronic issues is the heart of customer experience excellence. Teamwork, cross-functional collaboration, quality-tools skills, progress transparency, and persistence are needed. Reporting and recognition techniques can make this exciting and a way of life.
Walking the customer experience talk requires behaviors congruent with customers’ expectations.
Walk the Talk
Say what you mean, then show that you mean what you say. Business success is all about meeting or exceeding expectations, primarily customers’ expectations as your primary funder. The purpose of voice-of-the-customer is to reveal and monitor customers’ expectations, driving alignment of your company to customers’ priorities. All forms of customer engagement establish expectations. Put your money where your mouth is. Create a hand-in-glove experience. Center your thinking on customers. And demonstrate “customers first” daily. Make sure your whole company is getting its act together to consistently deliver what it promises to customers. That’s walking the customer experience talk.
How are you walking the customer experience talk?
*S.M.A.R.T. goals = specific, measurable, agreed-upon, reasonable, time-based; goals that are within employees’ direct wherewithal to attain.
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