Customer Experience strategy has been cited by executives in multiple surveys as “very important or critical.” This is the case for 90 percent of respondents to a 2010 Forrester survey and 80 percent in a Gartner survey. Eighty percent of executives surveyed also want to use Customer Experience “as a form of differentiation.”Needless to say, Customer Experience is a major form of differentiation from the consumer perspective. Whether it be cost, quality, or emotional differentiator … most modern day consumers base continued brand relationships upon their “experience.”
Why is this news? Why is the Customer Experience emerging as a “new” strategic element? Perhaps the Customer Experience focus is due to the executive level coming to terms with the modern day consumer taking on more of a power position in terms of choice, channel preference, and lust for recognition and customization. Consumers have the ability to expose their experience globally with the emergence of social media. Think of Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars” video on YouTube which now has over 10 million views (YouTube really is a sort of “must see TV” for the ages!). If you haven’t seen the video you really need to. Here’s the link: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo). Just for the record, there are many, many customer “testimonials” available on every conceivable social media site. The fact is that consumers are hijacking market control from the enterprise!
So what to do? First, executives need to adopt a “STRA-TACTICAL” approach to creating the desired Customer Experience. STRA-TACTICAL (a term I coined to use with our clients) is the ability to address both the strategic and the tactical components of the desired Customer Experience. Time must be taken to provide a clear and exact definition of the elements, components, drivers, etc., of the Customer Experience. I continue to find this quite an enlightening and valuable exercise!
Step One of the STRA-TACTICAL exercise is to corral the C-Level to participate in the activity. I never cease to be amazed at organizations that “scoff” at the C-Level being asked to lend their voices to the development and documentation of these elements … especially considering the fact that the C-Level is the ultimate influencer in an enterprise’s ability to deliver on the Customer Experience. If the C-Level is excluded from the development of the Customer Experience elements, the leverage for change will be lacking.
This first step is quite simple in its structure, but complex in execution. It requires a simple question being poised (mind you, this is not a survey; it is a facilitated conversation). “Define what will be our Customer’s Experience” is the way the question is poised in David Norton’s book Strategy Maps. What follows typically is the 30,000 foot answer: “Quality,” “Great,” etc. Generalization is typically the norm.
The facilitator must then ask, “What does that mean?” For example, “Tell me what quality means in terms of the Customer Experience.” Often, this is where the silence is a bit stunning. However, so is the yield. That is why an experienced facilitator is a requirement. A bit of encouragement may be needed; the objective is to continue to dig until identifiable and actionable behaviors have been identified.
The descriptors identified must align to the enterprise’s key focus areas. If your company is all about price (think Wal-Mart or even generic drugs) … efficiency, expense, error reduction, etc., become paramount. If quality and luxury are your company’s experience drivers … quality drivers must be documented first, with price/cost, efficiency, etc., organized around the higher value. When a hierarchy is not established, the risk of having “mismatched” focus across the enterprise is likely to damage the brand and ultimately the experience.
The conversation continues by identifying the requirements to achieve the stated objectives: “What must we DO to accomplish this strategic outcome?” Hence, the tactical is addressed with the strategic players. This same conversation needs to take place with representatives from the C-Level to the Cube Level.
Step Two is to identify the OBSTACLES to achieving the desired Customer Experience. Far too many organizations are hog-tied to infrastructures that simply are inconsistent with strategic goals. At the heart of many obstacles (in my humble opinion) are budget practices. As in any community these days, those with the most money (i.e., budget allocations) tend to be the biggest influencers and often the biggest obstacles. After all, certain types of cross-functional alignment could lead to elimination or consolidation of various business units that put the fiefdom at risk … hence the “stall,” “objection,” and “rejection” of process improvements. There seems to be a subliminal and widespread management practice that budget allocations must NEVER be put at risk, regardless of improvement forecasts. I often find that organizational silos are really a reflection of budget allocation and contribute to the barriers and organizational obstacles in delivering an effective Customer Experience. Again, only the most senior levels of leadership are in a position to break this damaging pattern.
Consider the design many companies have around the handling of customer contacts. One group has the web, another retail, another email, another voice, another social media, and on and on. Each invests in its own technologies, managers, staff, etc. They do, however, all reside on the “Customer Contact Continuum.” They are all potential touch points for the customer. We must ask: What exactly is the benefit to the customer of this internal segmentation? Where is the single place for the company to store, view, and act on valuable customer information on history, preferences, etc.? Are we forcing the customer to engage with disparate entities to resolve problems? Customers need to repeat their stories to multiple parties because information is not shared across the enterprise. I hardly think that any savvy strategy for Customer Experience would include these experiences; yet they are frighteningly common. My view is that enormous disconnects occur when strategy and tactics are NOT aligned … putting the Customer Experience in jeopardy.
Step Three is to document, distribute, and determine specific organizational factors that could cause complications; then determine how to overcome such obstacles.
– Reprinted with permission from PowerHouse Consulting, Inc., www.powerhouse1.com