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PHOTO: Mihai Surdu

Customer experience has been around for over 15 years, but with every passing year the pressure on organizations to realign themselves to be more customer focused grows stronger. Realignment involves dramatic changes in three areas: culture, operations and technology. 

This is the first in a three-part series examining those pillars. Today we'll examine what it takes to realign culture. 

Determine a ‘North Star’

“The shift toward customer experience can be difficult for teams across the organization. It represents a cultural shift in how work is viewed,” said Mike Rowland, West Monroe Partners customer experience (CX) director. “At a most basic level, the realignment asks employees to think customer-first, versus just completing the task in front of them. Without a clearly developed and communicated lens to operate under, the shift can be confusing."

West Monroe Partners advises clients to start by bringing cross-functional leaders into alignment around the firm’s new customer-focused ‘North Star,’ which goes beyond the brand or marketing, according to Rowland. The North Star focuses on how the organization wants to be perceived by its current and future customers, detailing the guiding principles to enable movement towards that aspirational CX.

“The challenge then becomes engaging your employees to not only buy into the North Star and guiding principles, but educating them on the why,” Rowland explained. “That requires an internal focus on change management best practices in communicating the direction and benefits of the focus, transparency in expectations, and empowerment to make mistakes along the way in order to learn.”

Related Article: To Achieve True Customer Centricity, You Need a Cross-Functional Dream Team

Change Must Start at the Top

“Tone at the top” is truer than ever when it comes to shifting to a customer experience focused culture, according to Kurt Schroeder, Avtex chief experience officer. “The leadership of the organization, regardless of functional area, should shadow front-facing roles to listen, observe and learn firsthand what the customers think of the experience they have with the organization.”

“Cultural changes cannot happen in pockets, nor can it happen overnight; senior leadership must buy in and demonstrably support the effort over time,” agreed Kristen Clough, vice president of digital strategy and analytics for teamDigital.

Schroeder recommended creating a senior level position that has authority and accountability over customer experience. The person in this role — a vice president or senior vice president — would have responsibility for any and all customer touchpoints and would have the authority to push changes in various departments based on findings of Net Promoter Score and other related customer experience reports.

“While it may seem obvious, individuals may understand customer centricity in different ways based upon their respective roles — and that may be the correct way to look at it, or it may not,” Clough added. “You must introduce your team to the concept, illustrate what it means and how you’re (everyone is) going to do it, and then continually reinforce, as immersion over time will change perspectives and so realignment will be needed as the culture matures.”

“Customer Experience metrics and KPIs are just as important as operational and financial metrics and are discussed at all levels of the organization,” Schroeder added. “Rewarding formally and informally CX success at all levels of the organization is important to show how critical CX is to the organization.”

In measuring success, look at conversion alongside retention, Clough said. “Healthy acquisition levels are great but not if your customer experience then loses or frustrates them. Are all your marketing tactics and offers aimed at gaining new customers? The cable/telecom industry comes to mind, they’re always aggressively filling the leaky bucket. Keeping your top customers happy is a no-brainer — beyond retention, it leads to advocacy, which is invaluable.”

Related Article: How Financial Services Compete on Customer Experience

Make it a Company-Wide Effort, Not Departmental

Barriers within companies need to be broken down to successfully make the needed cultural changes, according to Todd Wright, SAS head of customer experience and data privacy solutions. “For many companies the customer experience ends when the customer makes a purchase, ignoring the value of engaging customers on a consistent basis. For these companies, customers are the sole ‘possession’ of sales teams. Engagements consist of prompting or contacting the customer with the intention of upselling or adding additional goods. This approach completely ignores the value of engaging the customer on how to better use their current product, and perhaps providing examples of how others are using the offering in new ways. The company culture is that the customer represents an additional revenue steam only — without recognizing the value of making sure their current customer experience is positive."

Compounding this problem is that many companies that do value customer experience and want to have a world-class approach are stuck in silos, Wright added. “It is the old (and still alive) case of different departments not wanting to give up what they consider to be their data and their customer. While these departments understand the value of sharing and contributing to a 360-degree customer experience, tribal notions of giving up possession of something prevents them from doing so.”

The next post will look at some of the operational changes that are needed and how to overcome some of the associated challenges.