Lead or Follow? Company Alignment Sets CX Pace

Several weeks ago, I watched a newscast of customers who were recorded raging to a cable company’s service agents because of their incredibly, continuously poor CX. One customer, who’d called a half-dozen times about the same issue and was being transferred again, lost his temper in a very big way. When asked how they handled an irate customer, one agent said with a smile that they’d place the customer on hold—at the end of the queue—making them wait even longer for service. The interview gave me pause, and made me wonder what kind of company culture and leadership would foster an environment where employees responded to customers in this way.

I assumed that most of those recorded customers were people who are otherwise rational and hopeful when calling for help with a problem caused by a company they’re paying good money for services—but when faced with the company’s lack of commitment to customers, or poor process, or low employee engagement, those people stepped over the edge into the abyss of raging, ranting frustration. Has this happened to you?

Over the past three months, I contacted one SaaS company nearly a dozen times regarding the same two issues: failed service functionality and large billing mistakes. Finally, I gave up, removed my credit card from their auto-billing system, and unsubscribed, because they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—solve the problems. I’m not going to do business with companies that don’t prioritize my success as a customer—no fanfare from me, but no business either.

Maybe you’re the silent type: you don’t say much (except, perhaps, warning others to steer clear of the company), and you simply cancel the service. These frustrating situations are, unfortunately, not unusual; they’re happening to countless other customers.

This isn’t just another sad, bitter, service complaint story; it’s a declaration that enough is enough! As a CX expert, I’m hoping to alert unknowing companies—and their leaders—who mean well but haven’t done the hard work to actually fix the problems that impact customers. I’m a canary in a coal mine, of sorts, with an urgent message: a number of your customers aren’t happy with your service, nor are they getting the value that they expect, so they’re headed out the door, and your company is in trouble. Why? Because there’s a direct link between the customer’s experience and retention, revenue, growth, and profits.

I’m also alerting precious customers: It’s time to quit those companies that won’t resolve the underlying issues causing your repeated problems and impeding the achievement of your goals. Companies that won’t put customers first don’t deserve your business. Move on and try out the competitors’ services. Buy from companies who take customers seriously. And if you’re an employee who deals with angry customers all day because your company ignores its underlying problems, perhaps you should move on too. Find another job at a company that’s committed to customers, and watch your job satisfaction—and your personal happiness—soar. These are passionate messages, I know, but they need to be said out loud.

The purpose of this article is to share practical, professional advice with companies who are perplexed by their ongoing issues with customer dissatisfaction. I’ve written an extensive library of information about CX at Lori Carr Associates Blog, but today’s specific topic is a set of four steps to help get the entire company involved in the cooperative components that enable overall accountability for CX.

Lori Carr BlogCreate company-wide participation. The key to higher customer loyalty that drives customer and company value is engaging the whole company, broadly and deeply, in the process. Delivering brand-worthy CX is a highly interdependent company endeavor; everyone must rely upon each other, requiring focus and participation from every area of the organization.

Given that CX is impacted positively or negatively across all of a company’s functions, processes, and policies, it makes good sense for all leaders and staff to share accountability for that experience. Encouraging interdepartmental partnerships through clearly communicated customer strategy, vocal executive leadership and demonstrated behavior, and shared performance incentives increases teamwork toward the common goal of value-driven CX.

The CX metric—however you choose to define it—is one of several key metrics that is either achieved together as a company objective or not (details are below).

Establish customer journey maps. Customer journey maps provide a foundation for knowing how customers flow through the company from their initial interest in your services to continuous renewal. They also aid in aligning responsibilities that surround that flow with the “most accountable owners” in each company area.

Customer journey mapping, a vital anti-churn strategy, investigates and documents the end-to-end experience throughout the customer lifecycle. In conjunction with VoC sentiment and employee feedback, there is no better way to understand and resolve CX issues than to develop a comprehensive map detailing the complete customer journey through every touch-point. Opportunities for improvement in terms of people, processes, policies, technologies, and key intersections become crystal clear fairly quickly.

Align performance incentives. Once journey maps are established, metrics can be assigned across the entire customer flow, helping to clarify specific ownership, accountability, and ultimately, performance throughout the company. Metrics define which leaders are the most responsible for the work in each department, enabling collaboration to define the string of integrated KPIs along the entire process and the outcomes required to ensure success. Department metrics can then be rolled up to overall metrics that the whole leadership team is responsible for, such as customer loyalty or profitable customer lifetime value. Overall metrics should be shared by the entire leadership team or the entire company. For example, some companies incentivize leaders on overall sales revenue, EBIT, or net revenues. The CX metrics including customer retention, loyalty, satisfaction, lifetime value, renewal rate, etc. are—or should be—equally important to overall company incentives, because they contribute so much to growth.

This approach expands responsibility for CX across the organization and is a key component of transforming the company culture to one of customer-centricity. It establishes linkages between departments for shared performance results, supporting a powerful prescription that increases teamwork, effectiveness, and performance outcomes.

Gears and the mechanismEnable the organization. How do you enable an entire organization to willingly and logically share CX ownership? I’ll give an example from an outstanding company I worked for in the mid-1990s, one of the largest and most successful outsourcing enterprises supporting the top software firms at the time. Along with the various individual performance metrics in place, we had two shared key metrics owned by more than 40 leaders and 3,000 service staff: overall customer satisfaction and service level. These ensured cooperation and shared accountability; although we had separate teams, our success or failure (and our shared annual bonus) was determined by our performance on these two metrics as leaders—an all-or-nothing approach.

The leaders’ level of collaboration was all-in, silos were non-existent, and incredible success had never been achieved so easily. We worked together daily toward our overall goals. If my team struggled, my peers found someone on their team to help keep customer satisfaction and service at the highest level. We didn’t manage “by relationship or heroics”; we were systemic, collaborative, and accountable. We knew what we needed to do to be successful, planned for it, and executed the plan—often we didn’t even need to talk about what to do when an issue occurred, as the pre-planned solution just happened. At the end of each year, without exception, we met and exceeded our goals.

So how did that come about? It started with shared goals that were clearly understood by everyone, combined with prescriptive solutions to ensure success when any team was having a problem; outstanding leaders who communicated and supported a collaborative and performance-based environment; team and individual accountability; and cooperation and avoidance of silo behaviors. When performance goals are shared, the behaviors that produce good CX and business success automatically ensue.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as I delve more deeply into these key elements. This eight-article series will give you valuable insights and guidance as you plan, develop, and implement your own customer experience strategy.

Ready to move forward more quickly? Interested in personal assistance? Let’s chat. Please sign up for my complimentary 30-minute Customer Insight Strategy Session by calling our office at 617.848.4589 or emailing [email protected].

Lori Carr is a customer experience pioneer and expert. Working with Fortune 500 companies for the past 25 years, she helps popular brands and emerging brands to dramatically increase retention, loyalty, and profitable revenues.