Service excellence is something that I expect from the companies taking my money for the product or service I purchase from them. Yet, I think of countless interactions with vendors recently that cause me to wonder why companies have such difficulty getting it right.
At its core, the importance of delivering service excellence is fairly straightforward and easy to understand. Even easier is the clear financial ROI. A CEI survey found that 86% of buyers will pay more for a great customer experience, but only 1% felt most vendors measured up. Ouch.
Harder to understand are the obstacles getting in the way of creating the experiences that buyers say they’ll pay more to receive. Even if employees want to do the right thing personally, it is not unusual for corporate policies to tie their hands.
For the companies who are committed to improving service experiences, below I highlight seven reasons why making progress on a customer focused initiative inside your organization may not be working.
1.Tactics first. Sound familiar?
It is common for organizations to dive head first into their quest to improve customer focus without taking the time to determine if there is clear commitment from the CEO, evaluating how the functional departments currently work together or if there is the wherewithal to see the strategic implementation through to the end. It will be a long road ahead, possibly made even longer due to the size of the company.
2. Lack of clarity from the CEO about creating one, holistic customer experience.
When the CEO says “put your focus on the customer”, what does that mean exactly? Everyone – beginning with his or her direct reports – will interpret the directive differently. The CEO says charge and before you know it, people scurry into tactical action. The problem is that when each department jumps straight to tactics, based on their interpretation of what “putting focus on the customer means”, it puts the cart before the horse and usually doesn’t end up leading to any meaningful improvement for customers.
3. No inter-departmental alignment that creates one company customer experience.
To create a company wide, holistic customer experience requires detailed investigation and analysis of how customer experience stacks up today. Until you know, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to craft a strategy designed to right the ship. In other words, do you know what it feels like to do business with your company?
For departments to be in alignment, you need to know that the CEO is as committed to the customer mission as they say they are. Before embarking on what could be a failing mission, ask questions to gain more clarity about their commitment to the customer and the overall initiative. This might feel uncomfortable. After all, who wants to put themselves in the hot seat questioning the CEO’s commitment to the mission? Discomfort aside, you need to know the CEO’s answers to these questions and maybe more:
- Are you clear about what you want accomplished?
- Can you define the differentiated value you want us to deliver to customers?
- Do you understand the scope of the work that will be required?
- What about the new skills that employees – any perhaps you – will need to make this work?
- Are you willing to commit company time, resources and budget to ensure success?
- Will you insist on patience from every person, in every department to see the work through?
- What about reliability in company operations? Are you prepared to hold everyone accountable to core goals and objectives?
- Are you ready to be relentless in insisting on strategic customer metrics to track how we are doing?
4. Talk is cheap. Customers still aren’t thought of as true assets to the business.
Without customers there is no revenue, no business. Seems obvious enough. Customer growth drives the long-term sustainability and profitability of the company. Isn’t it odd that customer goals don’t warrant the same CEO attention as the monthly, quarterly and annual sales goals? In fact, many companies probably don’t even have clearly defined customer goals.
According to Jeanne Bliss, “Understanding the state of customer relationships and even something as simple as customer counts still pale in comparison to quarterly sales goals in the rate at which they are understood, managed and held up as a success factor of the business. No one knows the goal-line for customers. Most CEOs haven’t told their company what it is.”
5. The metrics, accountability and motivation do not line up with the commitment.
The CEO may say that they’re committed to a customer experience initiative, but if they don’t change the definition of success or realign the rewards and compensation, you have a problem. Even if the needed changes are made, they are often at such a high level – like bonuses against customer satisfaction scores – that employees don’t really know what to do to change their behavior. In fact, they might not even have any control over what the C-Suite decided to measure.
Metrics must be tied to relevant operational processes. Metrics must also be designed to hold people accountable and conversations related to “customer first” must always be front and center. The customer must be the first priority on every meeting agenda, not an afterthought. Up front work has to be done to identify how each person and department is measured against customer first goals, as well as how they deliver on the defined customer experience promise.
6. The scope of the work isn’t clearly understood or committed to.
Change is not easy. There will be real challenges when bucking up against the ingrained status quo. Everyone, starting with the CEO, must be realistic about what it will take to accomplish the overall mission and must be there every step of the way to support the work it will take. If the commitment is there but not much more, people will see right through the ruse. The corporate – I told you so types – will quickly expose the ugly truth, which is that this is just one more empty promise about the focus on the customer. CEO’s who are truly committed to the end game will acknowledge the scale of the undertaking needed to bring about the level of systemic change required.
7. Sustainable change requires patience often fleeting in most corporations.
There are no short-cuts or quick routes to sustainable change. To become a company that delivers against a customer experience strategy could take several years. Employees need to know that the CEO expects everyone to maintain a level of patience that lets team members stay the course.
Without the CEO’s personal commitment to corporate patience that exists beyond this current quarter, once again, employees will see right through it. In a nanosecond, they will abandon any efforts related to the strategic initiative if their performance rating is at risk because they stayed focused on a mission not yielding results quickly enough for impatient and unrealistic leaders.
It is my belief that companies need to focus far more attention on customer experience than they do today, especially given the multitude of channels in which customers and future customers can interact with their brand. Processes should be created to support what’s best for the customer – not what’s most convenient for the company. If you hope to acquire and retain more wallet share than your competitors, now might be the time to give serious thought about putting customers first.