Wilderness experts will tell you that using a compass to find your way requires an accurate starting point: if you don’t get that part right, and start out a few degrees off, you can end up in a very different place than your intended. In my recent conversation with Carol Borghesi, former Senior Vice President of Client Experience and Customers First Culture at Canadian telecom provider TELUS, we discussed what it takes to navigate the corporate wilderness to ensure we’re on the right trajectory for customer experience ROI (return on investment).
Disconnected Customer Experience Management & Financials
“Conventional wisdom about how we run businesses leads us to an obsession with quick wins,” explained Carol. “There’s a complete disconnect between the scope of the problem and management’s desire to see results. The language that businesses speak is fluent finance. And it has been devilishly difficult to get credible data that shows the relationship between reported customer experience and financial outcomes. The most important things to understand are the lead and lag indicators, and what should be worked on at the root level versus the surface level, associated with three factors: customer experience, operational results, and the financials. Much of what creates customer experiences are the decisions and processes generated well ahead of the front line. So it is critical that all of those groups, despite degrees of separation, understand how what they do impacts the customer. And the best way to start that conversation is to get around the table and develop a team-based customer experience strategy.”
Programs Versus Strategy
A credit union has been working with Carol to put their customer experience management on the right trajectory. “What they had been undertaking was pretty typical: front-line training to enable them to sell more products and services. They had some pretty good results when they undertook it about 5 years ago, but unsurprisingly, that tapered off. When I started to talking to the firm, they had ideas that they were going to do a bunch of tactical things, and were overwhelmed by the blizzard of stuff: customer journey mapping, training, customer councils, and so forth. They had limited resources and they knew they had to get back to their roots of putting their customers at the heart of what they did. They wanted to move their people from order-takers to inspiring trust among customers. We concluded that what they really needed to do was to establish a strategy. They understood they needed to look holistically at what they were doing, first of all, and secondly that it could not be an annual budget type of exercise, but longer term. That’s what led us to develop a team-based customer experience strategy.”
Team-Based Customer Experience Strategy
“We started with all of the functional leaders of all of the functions within the credit union — all direct reports of the senior management team — and that was important because, in fact, they actually run the place.” The team-based strategy process brings together people with different agendas, to establish understanding and agreement about what the goal is, and then to identify the issues and opportunities that the organization faces. It’s a simplified approach similar to SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) that faces the brutal facts as the issues are defined, whether they’re self-imposed or external.
“In order to create a strategy using the team-based approach, you really do have to make space for the management team to think through their business and go through what I call constructive arguing and debating, so that you really get an understanding of one another’s functional issues and opportunities relating to delivering on the promise of customer experience. We unpacked what it meant to deliver on their mission statement. That was inspiring and quite revealing to the team assembled.”
The Silver Bullet
The credit union leadership grew up in the business, and with very established thinking and hierarchical roles, team-based customer experience strategy was a completely new approach. “The senior management team gave their direct reports free rein to develop this strategy.” Afterward, Carol facilitated the senior management team going through the team-based strategy process. “What’s interesting is that they adopted virtually all of what their direct reports had developed. What was fabulous is that they had the purview of the bigger picture and made sure that this strategy was completely anchored in their overall enterprise strategy, and that is the silver bullet. They were able, in fact, to adopt a customer-centric strategy as the company’s strategy, complete with all the financial objectives of the organization over the 3-year planning horizon. They presented this strategy to the board, and that was the kickstart of re-organizing to align their leadership talents and functional accountabilities around customer experience.”
One of the key success factors identified in the ClearAction Customer Experience Management Best Practices Study is the treatment of customer experience as a determinant of corporate strategy — not as a subset of corporate strategy or an unrelated effort. While a minority of companies are in fact seeing their business in this light presently, those companies that do are realizing stronger business results and more holistic customer experience management.
Carol explained the importance of the credit union’s alignment of leadership talents and functional accountabilities: “If you haven’t addressed the changes that you need to undertake to put customers at the heart of what you do, you will continue to pit brother against brother. It’s essential to uncover where those process and policy and jurisdictional problems exist. I’ve seen completely polar opposite objectives in the score cards of different functional areas. No wonder they don’t get along! If my job is to sell as many widgets as humanly possible, and your job is to keep the cost down of supporting those widgets once they’re sold, we’re never going to work together harmoniously until we come to an understanding about the drivers of the issues that come post-sale. I think that’s what’s so powerful about team-based strategy, because we get it all on the table.”
All managers in the credit union participated in the strategic planning forum with opportunities to weigh-in on the strategy, voice their concerns, and reach a common understanding, and ultimately common agreement with the strategy. The CEO conducted road shows to introduce the strategy to all of the employees, with question-and-answer sessions that were incredibly powerful. The CEO said he’d never seen such a level of engagement in his people. Their recent employee opinion survey shows a rise in the level of trust that employee have in senior management, along with higher employee engagement, and a strong element of hope in employees’ comments. “They’ve heard this rhetoric before, but they’ve never seen this level of senior management behavior consistently supporting and being open to discussion and debate about putting customers at the heart of the business. Suddenly you’ve got an army that has not only the wherewithal to follow the leader, but has the belief to follow the leader. Why? Because they were instrumental to the development of the strategy. That’s unusual, but it is endlessly do-able.”
For having the courage to introduce this ground-breaking concept to the senior management team, the manager who started all of this at the credit union has been promoted to vice president. Congratulations to all involved for navigating the corporate wilderness to ensure the right trajectory for customer experience excellence with strong financial results.
Advice for organizations to adopt team-based customer experience strategy:
- Be realistic about your culture
- Build from your capabilities: don’t throw away your culture, strategy, business model, and successes
- Start wherever you sit in the organization: don't wait for senior management to do something about it
- Work through a facilitator: navigate opposing views and emotion, lots of data
- Follow the step-by-step process for team-based customer experience strategy
Click here for print version: Reality_Check_for_Customer_Experience_Trajectory
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