Customer Experience Is A Culture Problem

Customer experience has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past four years.  Beginning as a new software category promising to help companies delight, convert and retain customers to where it is today, a business discipline, focused on aligning culture, strategy and processes to audiences’ lifecycle expectations. The road has been a bumpy one. The software category matured, fragmented and is consolidating as vendors and users, alike, tried to achieve the promised ROI – revenue growth from customer loyalty.  Companies ran into multiple roadblocks mostly from employee fear, resistance to change, lack of internal competences and mistaken belief that software could bypass change management. Vendors, on the other hand, introduced a steady stream of features at a cadence that outpaced the capabilities and understanding of the most sophisticated users. An impasse has been reached.  Frustrated users are taking a step back to evaluate why delivering the experience customers valued was so hard.  Robert Tas, chief marketing officer of Pegasystems, a strategic applications vendor for marketing, sales, service, and operations, summed up five key barriers as:

  • Companies structured around products instead of customers,
  • Treating digital experience as a ‘check the box’ and not understanding what it means,
  • Line of business-centric funding model that doesn’t benefit anyone else,
  • Disconnect between employee expectations with them being treated as consumers and how they ultimately treat customers , and
  • Not closing customer feedback loops and being transparent.
“Customer experience is not a technology problem – it’s a culture problem,” states Tas. Breaking the culture paradigm requires different perspectives. “Customer experience is a disruptive business phenomenon,” shares Tas.  “As companies become more data, customer and digital centric, the speed of change will reduce barriers to entry and obsolete organizations.” Customer experience is in the process of being redefined. It’s not software that automates engagement or predicts which customer an employee should or should not pay attention to.  Customer experience is about all-inclusive strategic alignment between the customer’s engagement expectations, brand promise and the company culture behind the brand.  To win, CEOs must be maniacal about that alignment. One company that has taken this to heart is Qumulo, an enterprise data storage vendor.  Karim Fanous, vice president of customer success, implemented a three-prong strategy to align the company to key customers and their lifecycle expectations:
  1. People – empower front-line employees to do what is right to meet customer expectations. Fanous takes a different approach to hiring customer success managers. He hires seasoned practitioners, storage and system administrators, that have scored high on empathy skills. These employees have the maturity and experience to make the right decisions and serve as advisors to customers that add value to every interaction.
  2. Engineering – is required to ‘man’ the customer support center and answer support calls. Having the employees who design the product address customer complaints, questions and concerns results in better designed products that can be produced with fewer defects.  In short, they take more care in doing their job because they are directly accountable to customers.
  3. Automation – to remove complexity from the user interface of products. Fanous found that the ease of product use directly correlates to repeat purchases and higher NPS scores. Ease of use, however, cannot come at the expense of missing product features, value add or differentiation.
Other best practices that Qumulo has adopted include a dedicated Slack channel for every customer that is accessed by all employees; monthly check-in customer calls by sales, customer success, engineering and product managers; and full transparency on company business decisions and performance. The CEO of Qumulo, Peter Godman, is equally maniacal about customer alignment. He mandated a customer-first policy across and up and down the organization. Godman openly engages with all employees to reinforce the importance of Qumulo’s customers and celebrate the successes.  Achieving cross-organizational customer alignment didn’t happen overnight. It took two years and Fanous will tell you that the job is never done. Customer alignment is still a nascent discipline with evolving best practices.  Practitioners are just starting to understand the role behavior, emotion and cognitive marketing have on the intersection between customers and brands, B2C as well as B2B. That’s not to say that CEM/CX software is going by the wayside. Software plays a part in analyzing data to discern intent and context which enables companies to make more effective strategic decisions and interactions to sustain alignment.  CEM, CX, MA, CRM and analytics vendors are not there yet in terms of understanding their role in this evolve discipline.  One thing is for sure, customer experience is not a marketing or customer service ‘thing’.  It is deeply rooted in your business strategy and touches every corner of the organization. If the ROI you sought from embracing customer experience hasn’t been something to write home about, it’s time take to take step back and assess your approach.  Don’t be afraid to hit the reset button on your customer alignment initiative and come at from a fresh approach.  Start with first deeply understanding the customer from the outside-in, aligning company values and culture to, and define your business strategy around the customer. The advice I give clients is simple: Focus on employees first, then customers, followed by simplifying processes and institutionalizing it with technology.   First published in Forbes on May 9, 2016

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Companies are starting to see the light. They are embracing the principles that Apple, Google, and Philips Electronics have been advocating for a long time – differentiate yourself based on the experience you deliver to customers; not on the products you sell. According to a CEI Survey, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. But only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations. These statistics highlight the magnitude of the growth opportunity before us. What if you just increased the percentage of consistently happy customers by 5%?.... Read the full article on Forbes.

Why Customer Loyalty Is Hard

Wrapping your business around the customer has been a core business principle since before Adam Smith wrote the “Wealth of Nations” in 1776. Yet every year, there are new technologies, theories, and business models that promise to get a company closer to its customer, as if customer alignment had just been discovered for the first time. Do we really need new-fangled ways of solving the problem, when many companies have performed well at customer alignment for centuries?... Read the full article on Forbes.  

What Does Trust Have To Do With Anything?

Ever been in a meeting where everyone seems to get along swimmingly? But the longer you sit there you start to get a sense that a play act is going on. The friendly banter is contrived, double entrendres abound, the proselytizers are taking turns, and the conversation doesn’t hit on the core reason for the meeting. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an uptight ‘suits’ or ‘jeans and t-shirt’ environment, company cultures these days suffer from a serious malaise. The lack of trust at all levels is at epidemic portions. I venture that few of you really trust your boss or cube farm neighbors.... Read the complete post on Forbes.