- Showing the way. Leadership is about showing the way and inspiring others to progress toward success, but it is a challenging and difficult skill to master.
- Driving culture change. CX leadership requires a focus on integrating and motivating, aligning CX strategy with business objectives and driving culture change.
- Authenticity and more. Effective CX leadership requires authenticity, a focus on employee and customer engagement, an ownership mindset and a purpose-driven culture.
Leadership: Essential Insights and Actionable Recommendations
Lead: “To go before or with to show the way,” according to Merriam-Webster. There are lots of definitions of leading and leadership, but this simple version is my favorite. You might have to read it twice, but it really does make sense. The job of a business leader is to show the way: This is what success looks like; this is how to get there; and this is how to inspire others as you progress.
Leadership is not for the faint of heart, and there are clear distinctions between management and leadership. The former is vital and, thankfully, relatively teachable. Leadership, on the other hand, is equally important but a lot tougher to pull off. To some degree, we either have what it takes to be a leader or we don’t. If we’ve got it, we still need to work hard to bring it to realization — every single day. The best way to do that is to apply a specific set of objectives, areas of focus, personal characteristics and skills. This applies as much to customer experience as it does to anything else.
“When I talk to managers, I get the feeling that they are important. When I talk to leaders, I get the feeling that I am important.”― Alexander den Heijer
CX leadership brings some special challenges. If you’re a CFO, CMO or even a CEO, there is a more conventional way to exert leadership. If you’re a CX leader, there are too many different approaches to declare anything approaching a standard. So you have to look far and wide, pick your favorite leadership traits to emulate and then create your own roadmap.
Related Article: My Top 3 Lessons Learned as a CX Leader
Focus: The Crucial Objectives of CX Leaders in Driving Organizational Change
The fundamental job of the CX leader is to develop, continually refine and implement the CX strategy for your organization. The chief objectives are to:
- Weave the CX strategy into the day-to-day operation of the company and attainment of broader business objectives such as revenue and profitability growth, customer and employee retention, increased market share and ongoing competitive differentiation.
- Model customer engagement, advocacy and a customer-outcomes orientation in a way that inspires customers, employees, investors and company stakeholders.
The CX strategy cannot be a standalone entity apart from the rest of the business. And a big part of that strategy is to inspire changes in approaches, processes, behaviors and measurement. Specific areas of focus help the CX leader to both integrate and motivate — and ultimately achieve the core objectives.
In the research we are conducting, we find that organizations do have a strong sense of priorities in CX leadership areas of focus. Initial findings suggest that the priorities are alignment of the CX strategy with business objectives, modeling of customer engagement and advocacy, promoting a customer-centric brand and driving culture change.
Alignment: Techniques and Skills for Successful CX Deployment
Thinking of CX as an altruistic venture is ultimately counterproductive. You will never succeed in fully developing and deploying the CX strategy unless you can effectively engage the entire executive team — and employees at large — in both development and deployment of the strategy. The only way to do this is by constantly showing how CX principles, processes and measurement are integral to running the business and achieving the company’s overarching goals.
There are several techniques that, in combination, help achieve this:
- Lead by influencing: Think of this as harnessing leadership to get things done where you don’t have the top-down authority to prescribe it. Understanding how to influence people is key whether you have the organizational authority or not. It is indispensable when you can’t rely on being the boss. This is most obviously the case with the CX organization federated model. Mastery of leading by influence will affect your ability to work with your peers, as well as all other employees and stakeholders in the company.
- Secure buy-in and sponsorship: Involving every top executive in the company in the development of the CX strategy is crucial. Buy-in is not enough without sponsorship. Each functional leader needs to have specific responsibilities. And responsibility is not enough without accountability for outcomes. This includes sponsorship of CX programs, sponsorship of key customer relationships and sponsorship of customer outcomes.
- Develop enduring partnerships within your company: Especially with sales, engineering, marketing and HR.
Alignment, in particular, requires a clear-eyed inventory of skills. Our initial research findings suggest that these are the most crucial skills for the effective CX leader:
Engagement: A Broader Perspective on Driving Consistent Success
It’s funny how engagement is tied to an arrangement to do something, but being engaged implies you are already occupied by that task. So too when it comes to effective CX Leadership and the challenge of “no single way” to drive and deliver consistent success.
So, let’s look at engagement from a broader lens in terms of what drives action to result in the audience (your team, colleagues or customers) ultimately being engaged:
- Start with a simple question: What is your desired level of engagement?
- Ensure your actions support the desired response: Are you aligned to deliver on that expectation?
- Measure, communicate, rinse and repeat: Have you gained traction on your goals and are they reflected in your metrics?
What Is Your Desired Level of Engagement?
Have you ever asked your customers that question? If the ultimate goal in the relationship hierarchy is to move from supplier/vendor to partner and perhaps ultimately to trusted adviser, what happens if where you think you are and where you want to go in the relationship is not tied to the goals of each customer? The short answer is a lot of time, energy and effort are wasted.
Are You Aligned to Deliver on That Expectation?
This understanding can help you better leverage your limited resources while establishing shared expectations for the direction of the relationship. This does not begin and end between all things CX and your customers. Instead, this perspective more broadly influences teams such as sales, engineering, marketing, and HR with investment priorities and focus. The result is better alignment across the organization and delivering on where customers want to be in the relationship hierarchy.
Have You Gained Traction on Your Goals and Are They Reflected in Your Metrics?
It is easy to believe that you have been somehow slighted if a customer wants you to just be a vendor. Not so fast. How many competitors do you have that are fighting for that same spot?
The reality is that your metrics should reflect the strength of the engagement, be it by reorders, CSAT scores and even NPS. Examine the economics of maintaining the relationship versus the revenue and margin created. Not all relationships deserve the same level of investment — and not all relationships should be measured the same way.
Apply the same logic to your employees. Unlocking the value in a relationship that drives top line revenue begins with assessing just how engaged your team is in delivering on your stated goals. Your engagement plan must be equal parts about employees and customers such that they intersect on experience and desired outcomes.
Looking for promoters, brand advocates and raving fans? Look within. If you’ve got them on your team, you’ll have them as clients.
“Always treat your employees as you want them to treat your customers.”― Stephen Covey
Related Article: Do You Have the Traits of a CX Leader?
Thought Leadership: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Market
As with leadership in general, thought leadership is defined in many different ways. One definition we particularly like is “the expression of ideas that demonstrate you have expertise in a particular field, area or topic.” This is an essential tool for CX leadership and has a particularly important role to play in customer marketing, brand advocacy and customer engagement. Now more than ever, the challenge is presenting yourself as a credible, authoritative and engaging thought leader.
Edelman, the large public relations firm, has partnered with LinkedIn for a number of years on research into thought leadership. In its 2021 report, one of its key findings is that “a pandemic-induced glut of low-quality content is diluting the perceived value of thought leadership among B2B decision-makers.” Clearly, we need to overcome this, targeting customers and partners outside of our company, as well as peers and employees within the company.
Some examples of CX thought leadership specifics by audience:
Form of Thought Leadership
Audience: Customers & partners
Engagement in solution definition, issue resolution, relationship building, and sponsorship
Presentations and conferences
Customer’s business and industry
Your business and solutions
Credibility, trust, and brand advocacy
Audience: Peers (the leadership team) and employees
Collaboration and advising
Your company’s business and industry
Credibility as a key enabler and influencer
Transformation: Keys for CX Leaders to Ensure Consistent Experiences and Strong Outcomes
How will you, as a CX Leader, drive transformation that ensures focus, alignment and engagement throughout the organization for consistent customer experiences and strong outcomes for your customers and your company?
This is no small task, but here are a few ideas that can help frame an approach:
- Authentic Leadership: Authenticity — be it as the CX leader, CFO, CMO or CEO — is derived from vulnerability and emotional commitment creating fidelity and a baseline of trust among teams. Lose the talking points and engage your team as adults with candor, confidence and conviction and watch what happens.
- EX + CX = RX: The level of employee (EX) and customer (CX) engagement reflected in the employee and customer experience will cultivate revenue and expansion (RX). It’s obviously not math. It is about culture, caring and purpose.
- Ownership Mindset: If you google the term, you’ll see “taking responsibility for outcomes and being empowered to make the decisions that will lead to those outcomes.” This is less about ownership as in equity and more about organizational behaviors demonstrating a desire for consistently positive experiences.
- Culture and Purpose: Based on the size of your organization you may or may not be able to measurably move the needle here for the entire company, but as a leader you can build your own culture with purpose. You’ll know this is effective when others want to be a part of your team. According to McKinsey, one of the most important things leadership can do to stem “quiet quitting” is to help employees link their own sense of purpose with what the company is trying to achieve.
Ultimately, you have the opportunity to create a community within the larger organization that demonstrates the importance of client-centricity and the impact it has on the financial and strategic results of the entire enterprise.
“Those who lead by example and demonstrate passion for what they do make it much easier for their followers to do the same.”― Marshall Goldsmith
Get Going: Steps for CX Leaders to Drive Transformation and Improve Customer Experiences
So, what can you be doing starting tomorrow morning? Here’s our guidance:
- Start assessing and refreshing your current CX strategy. Focus on specific programs and set new priorities based on a standard set of CX capabilities including customer feedback/analytics, customer and employee engagement, customer success, customer marketing and customer-centered transformation. Invariably, priorities that emerge, at least in a B2B environment, include rejuvenating your customer segmentation strategy, executive sponsorship/engagement, account management and customer marketing.
- Look at organization structure. Once the priorities are set, look at your organization structure and consider how you might organize around the core capabilities.
- Meet with your peers and review your capabilities, programs and organization plans. You’ll want their input and buy-in, but go beyond that for involvement, responsibility and accountability.
- Get going on community. Build a next-level-down community across company functions and lines of business to focus on CX change and execution.
- Develop a framework for thought leadership that will up your credibility both internally and externally. Consider blogging on your CX journey and points of view. Conduct research and interview key customers. Position yourself for company and industry speaking engagements. Consider doing any of these things in partnership with one or more of your peers to show alignment and reap the benefits of combining functional points of view with an overarching CX strategy.
- Engage with the sales team. Strategize on how you can help them develop new opportunities and close deals.
- Prioritize your time very carefully, balancing the strategic and the tactical. The companies that we have researched so far suggest that CX leaders should place the most emphasis on analyzing customer and employee input to drive themes and actions, engaging directly with customers to resolve problems and gain feedback, and sharing strategic approaches and status with peers and top leadership to align goals and engagement. See the snapshot below.
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