phases of the lunar eclipse
PHOTO: Dhaval Parmar

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." — Niccolò Machiavelli, "The Prince" 

Machiavelli wrote these famous words in 1513 as advice to the ruler of Florence on how to stay in power, but he could have been advising customer experience (CX) leaders today on ensuring that the customer is at the core of their business. These C-level executives are increasingly being asked to extend their influence, to break down silos, to drive strategy — in effect, to introduce a new order of things into their organizations.

Why is it so hard to do? Consider the second part of Machiavelli’s quote from "The Prince":

“Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

There is no question that modern CX requires innovation. Innovation to change entrenched business practices and processes; to knit together siloed departments, and channels; and to drive actions from analytics and insights rather than from gut feel. What’s more, the modern CX leader has responsibility over the entire spectrum of activities attendant in developing and nurturing customer relationships. These include the traditional activities of campaign generation and sales enablement, as well as all the other processes, technologies, tools and talent that support the customer experience. Unfortunately, CX leaders rarely have authority over everything that touches a customer.

While CX at its simplest is the ability to influence, monitor and improve every interaction a customer has with your company, introducing a new order of things to transform an organization to customer centricity is much more than that. To understand what really needs to be done, let’s look at an old definition of customer relationship management (CRM), one that I quote frequently in this column:

“The alignment of business strategy, organization structure and culture, and customer information and technology so that all customer interactions can be conducted to the long-term satisfaction of the customer and to the benefit and profit of the organization.” ("Building the Customer-Centric Enterprise," Wiley, 2001)

The reason I like the definition so much is it emphasizes what I consider to be the most critical word in any CX initiative, a word missing from just about every popular CX definition. What is that word? Alignment.

Related Article: Bring Your Customer Data Together to Enable Customer Success 

Alignment: The Harmonic Convergence for CX Leaders

The harmonic convergence was an Aztec prophecy which said when the planets aligned, humans would enter a period of peace and environmental harmony. If a CX leader were making this prophecy today, the objects of alignment would be business units, strategies and technologies rather than planets, and the peace and harmony would be cultural. Unfortunately, alignment is not just absent from the CX definition — it is also missing for many CX leaders confronting organizational and technical silos, cultural resistance to change, and conflicting strategies and business objectives.

A great example of the importance of alignment is a high-end retailer readying for an onslaught of new competitors in a market it had traditionally dominated. The CMO was tasked with renewing the company’s focus on cultivating strong customer relationships. An investigation revealed several steps the company needed to take including: unifying sales practices across stores, improving the customer information collected and recorded by sales associates, and adopting a comprehensive communications policy to optimize customer contacts. This was not as easy as it might sound.

Coordinating in-store treatment required the cooperation of store operations. Changing the customer attributes collected and recorded involved not only the stores but also IT (who were implementing a new POS application) and merchandising (sponsoring the POS project). Developing a customer contact policy affected all business units marketing to or servicing the customer: merchandising, store operations and a digital transformation group. 

Despite gaining the additional title of Chief Customer Officer, the CMO did not have authority to make these sweeping changes independently.

Related Article: The Path to Customer-Centricity Lies in Dismantling Data Silos

Achieving Alignment: Be the Glue, Not the Gorilla

John Maxwell, a popular leadership coach, once said, “leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts, it is about one life influencing another.” When it comes to transforming a company, he is right. Fostering the organizational cohesion needed to align customer-oriented business strategy with culture and structure may well be the biggest challenge CX leaders face. Key activities to overcome cultural and organizational issues include:

Establishing a partnership with Human Resources to change job descriptions and incentives, to acquire appropriate talent and to implement organizational changes.

Developing relationships with key leaders in IT, creating a partnership wherein IT provides the technical knowledge and skills needed to produce high quality integrated data, and also implements and maintains the diverse set of technologies required to fuel the CX machine.

Aligning product management/development and marketing to ensure that product functionality and usage experience reflect customer-oriented objectives and feedback.

Compelling sales, service and marketing to align around a consistent and embedded brand story.

The high-end retailer discussed earlier in this article put these practices to good use. After their slow start, they took a step back to understand and mitigate the organizational and cultural issues that were impeding progress toward customer-centricity. They used journey maps to determine which business unit(s) owned the customer at each point in the lifecycle and worked from those to facilitate the CX goals. The CMO made several organizational changes designed to create buy-in and form partnerships. First, a center of excellence team for customer experience and analytics was created to develop CX best practices and define new business processes.

This group was spearheaded by the CMO and staffed with marketing analysts with deep experience in developing customer insights. Additional teams tasked with guiding touchpoint experiences and developing new business processes were formed as adjuncts to the center of excellence, and included representatives from store operations, digital experience, IT, HR and merchandising. The expectation for the center of excellence was marketing would permanently lead the center while participation would temper off to an as-needed basis for the other members. A more permanent CX governance committee with key stakeholders from each of the affected business units was also formed to drive decision making around business processes. Marketing ultimately led the way, but the business units each had an active role in shaping the plan and rolling out the changes.

Forging new partnerships, adopting an analytics mindset, influencing peers in the C-suite and becoming the de-facto integrator between siloed business groups will be increasingly critical for the CX leader of the future. Start planning today for what your organiza­tion will need tomorrow.