Putting the Tactics before the Strategy in Customer Experience

Human nature is to want immediate gratification. We want the “quick fix”. Whether it’s that shiny new bike (I’m into cycling) or the new coffee maker (because we didn’t do a great job of de-scaling the old one). Whether trying to change a culture by listening to a motivational speaker at a trade show, or driving business through your restaurant using a Groupon-type scheme, we are an impatient bunch. When it comes to the Customer Experience journey, we are no different. We want to shorten that journey so that it’s completed in a quarter; so that we can show quick return in our financial reports. Problem is, it’s a journey, and beginning a journey at the mid-point is like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cutting the sandwich in half before you’ve put the jelly on the bread. It’s not how it’s done.

Earlier today I connected with two potential clients in completely different industries, but linked by a common thread. (Besides the consulting work I do, I’m also charged with developing new business for the CE Strategy firm I work for.) In both cases, neither organization I spoke with had developed their Customer Experience strategy – the first, a large insurance company, owned by a major global brand, was preparing to implement NPS (Net Promoter Score) as the new standard to measure customer experience. The second organization, a national energy company was working on developing metrics to measure the effectiveness of its customer-facing staff.

…beginning a journey at the mid-point is like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cutting the sandwich in half before you’ve put the jelly on the bread.

The point is, neither organization had even thought through a strategy of how Customer Experience could be designed and rolled out across the company. Neither had considered the economic implications of becoming a customer centric organization. Nor had they considered overall objectives of such a journey – they were just jumping right into measurement. Why? Probably because it’s something that people can wrap their heads around…it’s not that difficult to explain, and it provides something immediate…numbers. And people understand numbers.

It’s not like organizational change, which is “touchy-feely” stuff, requires major committment from all levels in an organization, and will most likely take years to see results with.

I used to be in the Customer Experience measurement business, providing one of those online data collection solutions to capture voice of the customer and transactional feedback. You know the kind…”Go to our website or call our 1-800 number and tell us how you feel to be entered to win our grand prize.” We sold and ran our measurement program to customers in Financial Services, Travel and Hospitality, Healthcare, and Retail. One of the key reasons I got out of it was I didn’t believe it was the right starting point for raising the bar with customers. Yet organizations were jumping on the bandwagon. Why? It was sold as if it could solve the customer satisfaction problem. And it was a technology, and it was cool.

We want to do Customer Experience, we want to have better satisfaction scores, let’s put in a measurement system and surely we’ll be able to raise our customer sat scores in less than a year. We’ll tell the world of our success, our customers will see higher scores, and buy more from us.

But time and time again, it didn’t create real organizational change. It really never transformed the organization into one that truly put the customer at the centre of the world – but rather, it created an environment of hypocrisy, some management distrust, and even some passive aggression. Guess what though? The executives signed off on it and they even sold it internally to the rest of the organization. It must have been perceived as a “quick fix”. “We want to do Customer Experience, we want to have better satisfaction scores, let’s put in a measurement system and surely we’ll be able to raise our customer sat scores in less than a year. We’ll tell the world of our success, our customers will see higher scores, and buy more from us.”

Adopting a strategy of becoming a customer-centric company often requires cultural change. It starts from within. It starts with employees who trust the organization’s management, and who believe in the company’s brand promise. And it impacts all levels and departments within an organization. Of course there are small steps a business can take in the short-term, to improve customer engagement, to make it easier for customers to do business with you, to respond to customers faster. But in order to truly change, and for your customers to experience the positive change over time, and with consistency, we really need to move things up a notch and shift from jumping in and trying to fix our problems with tactical solutions, to considering the customer from a strategic viewpoint. And this takes time, it takes investment, it requires authentic buy-in, and it takes leadership that recognizes the inherent value of long-term customer relationships. There is no quick fix.