Customer EngagementKathleen's Corner

Death by Management … R.I.P. Customer Experience

Kathleen Peterson
Kathleen Peterson

The Customer Experience has long been on the tongue of senior management as a primary strategic objective and a market differentiator … rightly so. Companies able to deliver on the experience enjoy multi-dimensional benefits such as positive word of mouth, loyalty, and profitability. Organizations achieving success in this arena have many things in common. They possess vision clarity (i.e., ability to operationalize the vision AND the infrastructure), patience, investment, adoption, passion, and the ability to manage change across all functions.

Those giving only “lip service” to the Customer Experience might be contributing to its death. They may neglect to see the depth of tasks, activities, processes, cross-functional alignment, budget, leadership, etc., necessary to actually deliver on their promises. These folks have many things in common. They may be unable to describe the Customer Experience in behavioral terms, jump to solutions, and issue mandates instead of managing change. They lack sufficient due diligence and have poor mapping of infrastructure requirements. Customer Experience is, in essence, an intangible. It is an outcome manifesting as a feeling the consumer enjoys as a result of interacting with a company. It is up to the company to assess and refine operational and infrastructure requirements to keep the experience alive and well.

My recent trip to a “big box, do it yourself” store illustrated what lip service looks like in action. I was looking for some flooring for my bathroom redo. I found a style I liked and wanted to get a sample. This required an “associate.” My guess is that someone decided that requiring an associate’s assistance would improve sales and the Customer Experience. However, the real trick to this plan is actually staffing some associates!

I waited in the Flooring department for a few minutes and searched for assistance. I stopped an associate that was passing by. (His vest was adorned with embroidered Customer Service promises.) The associate promptly informed me that I needed an associate from Flooring. He said he would look around and went on his way. After another few minutes, I went to a register, picked up the phone, dialed zero, and requested that someone be sent to Flooring. I was immediately chastised for having the audacity to actually use the phone, but then heard the page for an associate to go to Flooring. After an additional ten minutes, I left the store! To me, this experience is a perfect example of the result of “lip service.” That sale was lost, as well as any FUTURE sales. To illustrate further the gaps in the Customer Experience, I went to the company’s website. Here is a portion of the job description for “sales floor associates.”

“Embody (The Company’s) dedication to exceptional Customer Service, offering expert advice to customers on products in a variety of categories … Serve as the friendly, knowledgeable face of (The Company’s) sales force, exceeding customers’ expectations with every interaction.”

This description is the perfect illustration of “all talk and no action” and of conditions that strangulate the Customer Experience rather than breathe life into it! Is it any wonder that this company is closing stores and losing money?

The bottom line … it is NOT ENOUGH to talk about it, to advertise it, or to embroider it. For the Customer Experience to work, you have to actually INVEST in it! Companies that invest in keeping the Customer Experience healthy recognize the need for executive oversight to break down cross-functional barriers and assure that those elements critical to the promise are budgeted and funded. These include operational elements such as process and technology, organizational infrastructure; management to staff ratios, new-hire and ongoing training, procedures, approvals, escalations, and performance measures. Cross-functional relationships must also be healthy and integrative. For example, in healthy organizations IT does not get to select technologies without consultation and approval from the “domain” experts. These experts are the ones that have to use the stuff!

I was recently involved with a situation in which IT was tasked with replacing a large enterprise-wide telecommunications system. (While I could write volumes on this particular infrastructure issue, I will point out only what I consider to be a poisonous process.) The IT folks, who did not feel the need to involve the Telecom department, allowed the vendor to sell them on doing a “like for like” implementation.”Like for like” is exactly what it sounds like … take the design of the existing 20 year old system and install the new system with the same features and functionality! And make changes as needed after installation! This is of course EASY for the vendor and for IT since they would leave all the “change requests” to Telecom.

I guarantee that the executive team would rightfully freak out if members realized their multi-million dollar investment was to be implemented in a “like for like” manner. This is a likely outcome since the organization has multitudes of customer complaints about being unable able to reach people, not receiving call backs, etc. Those funding this acquisition approved it (at least In part) after having seen delightful demos of all the “whiz bang” features and functionality that they thought would resolve some of the customer issues. Oops … wrong!

IT made a unilateral decision to allow a technology travesty to move forward. Staff convinced themselves that the decision was the right one. They were both wrong and arrogant. This type of decision-making illustrates how risky it is to leave a project of this scope, scale, and impact in the hands of the unconsciously incompetent (i.e., they don’t know what they don’t know). A few million dollars later, the Customer Experience remains at risk! Management is guilty of malpractice when this kind of deployment is allowed to occur.

Hence … the death of Customer Experience by management. The demise begins with senior executives that learn the “lip service” lingo, lob it into the operation, and actually expect great results. This hallucination is perpetuated by management all the way down the line via their unwillingness or inability to formulate a compelling case for whatever is actually required to meet Customer Experience objectives. At some point someone has to speak up and document what and where gaps exist between “current” and “desired” state. Sadly, many well-intentioned managers in these operations are constricted by the infrastructure and hog tied by politics and “bureaucrap.” This places even the enlightened manager in an untenable situation.

Let’s resurrect the Customer Experience! Commit to in-depth audits of tasks and activities across your enterprise and do what it takes to manage the necessary changes. Nothing stands alone anymore. If management teams cannot invest the time to define and align operations with infrastructure, efforts to deliver on the Customer Experience will most assuredly die. Rest in Peace, Customer Experience.


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