Cultivating Leadership Support for Customer Experience: 5 Ways
Executive boards and senior leadership teams represent a variety of personalities and management styles, but one thing they definitely have in common is this: they’re busy.
A customer experience (CX) program cannot thrive without broad-based organizational support, so here’s how to keep CX front-and-center in the busy lives of leadership teams and sponsors.
Communicating the voice of the customer—through feedback and insights—to organizational leadership is one of the primary duties of the customer experience leader. In an ideal world, the entire management team should understand the link between customer loyalty, revenue and the importance of employee engagement. And, they should also offer the required support to extend the value of the customer experience program across the broader organization, creating a customer-centric culture.
While this organized and highly effective approach can be beneficial to all, let’s get real.
Customer experience leaders today are constantly faced with organizational changes, competing priorities and shifting economic landscapes. These are time-consuming issues that require a lot of attention. In addition, we are asking these leaders to understand a relatively new discipline called customer experience and give it their full support.
In my last column, we looked at how to build a compelling business case for your CX program. Let’s now take the next step in the process, which is focused on gaining a broad-based support system across the enterprise. Relationship building with organizational leaders during this phase is critical. As a CX practitioner, we naturally assist organizations in building relationships with their customers. Why not apply some of those same techniques—blended with a few new and different ones—to also develop strong relationships between these internal stakeholders and the CX program?
I recommend organizations take these five techniques into consideration when developing the broad-based support CX programs need to survive:
1. Welcome and Instill New Leaders
Leadership team staffing changes are inevitable and expected. It can be painful to lose a leader who has been very supportive of the program. Don’t waste valuable time feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, get on the new leader’s calendar and educate her about the CX program goals, governance structure and what has been achieved.
To avoid overwhelming this new advocate with data, be selective and share overall customer satisfaction ratings coupled with customer feedback specific to their department. It’s helpful to schedule this meeting 6-8 weeks into their tenure with the company. At that time, she is still formulating ideas about priorities and plans for her area of responsibility and customer feedback is helpful.
2. Go Beyond Group Meetings
I learned this technique during a summer month when it seemed impossible to schedule an executive meeting where all were available to attend. As a result, I decided to cancel the group meeting and my executive sponsor and I met with each member individually. The meetings were so valuable that it has become a regular practice. Of course, you’ll want to have group meetings with the executive team on the calendar, but don’t rely solely on them.
By meeting with each stakeholder, we walked away with more opportunities to share in-depth customer feedback and possible approaches to further improvement for the business functions they oversee—ultimately creating strong executive sponsors. Ask for their feedback on the CX program, with questions such as: Do you think we are headed in the right direction? Are we gathering feedback that is helpful to you in your day-to-day operations? We find that these individual meetings are invaluable for that type and quality of feedback.
3. Give Credit Early and Often
Celebrate when there is a win for the customer experience! And, while most often, the CX team has played an instrumental role in gathering customer insights, identifying drivers and, perhaps, organizing project teams around targeted improvements, it’s important to highlight the efforts of the functional areas involved.
Whenever I present results at a company meeting, I always credit customer satisfaction improvements to department leadership and teams where the improvements were made. This sharing of credit helps strengthen trust and builds relationships between the CX team and the departments it serves and, ultimately, builds support for customer experience.
4. Keep an Open Mind
The backbone of any customer insight program is the relationship survey. We pore over it for weeks or months, taking the bias out of our questions, choosing the right scales and most importantly, asking about the right interactions. So when someone asks us to make a change in the survey we bristle just a bit. Introducing a change into our masterpiece seems unnecessary—not to mention how it affects our trend data.
However, it’s important that all stakeholders feel that the survey is relevant to their needs. So, remember this: It’s not YOUR survey. It belongs to the organization. If a team wants to add another data point or modify an existing question, meet with them to find out why the change has been requested. Sometimes you’ll find that the need is better served by another type of feedback tool or you may discover that the requested change makes your survey better.
5. Tell a Story
Storytelling shouldn’t be limited to the business case. Make it a practice. Sharing customer feedback to management can be a tough job and best done through storytelling. Everyone (myself included) has made the mistake of trying to present a myriad of slides showing every single piece of data collected—and segmented in every possible way. To be fair, those of us who like data really think this is exciting. However, most management teams want to walk away with the highlights that underscore how and why the CX program is relevant to their department.
A great example is when we asked field reps to participate in the closed-loop processes for our surveys. As part of the process, we first needed our executive team to approve a policy that would require the reps to respond to dissatisfied customers within 24 hours. The executive team was hesitant, saying that the field reps had busy schedules and were travelling frequently. They didn’t feel that there was enough benefit to the policy. That was, until I told them a story…
During the previous quarter, one of our field reps received a notification of an unhappy customer in his area. Immediately, he picked up the phone, made an appointment and was in that customer’s office the next day. He listened patiently to the customer’s concerns about the previous product implementation. He responded saying that, if given the chance, he would personally guarantee a great experience and be an advocate at each step. The customer responded well to field rep and because of the timely and sincere response, he decided to include our company in the search. The result: he decided to buy our solution, and we’ve since added this customer to our reference program. After telling that story, our executive team unanimously approved the new policy for closed loop processes.
Stories bring life to data and facts. They make it easy to remember key points and can paint a vivid picture of what it’s like to be a customer. A good story is interactive. Use words and pictures that your audience can picture themselves in, so they become more engaged, understand the information better and walk away with key points to share in other meetings. Day-in-the-life stories are a nice way to portray the experience of a highly satisfied customer who received great service versus one who had a less than satisfying interaction.
Broad-based organizational support to a customer experience program is like water and sunshine to a garden. By incorporating these practices and insights, CX leaders can foster the executive-level support and sponsorship they need for their programs to grow and thrive. Now, we’d like to hear from you!
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