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Why Survival Mode Kills The Customer Experience

Updated: May 26, 2022

Do you ever feel like you're in "survival mode," running from one crisis to another, just trying to get through the day? The moment you stomp out one fire, the sparks start flying in five other directions. Or, you look at your to-do list at the end of the day, and realize that it's not just that you didn't spend your time coaching your team or any of your other big priorities; your list for tomorrow is also filled with distractions that won't do anything to help your team accomplish what matters most.

A survival mode culture is one of the fastest way to destroy the experience for your customers as well as your employees.

It's a common sight at 8:00 AM in office parking lots all over the world. Men and women sitting in their cars, buses and trains, giving themselves a pep talk before stepping into the corporate war zone. "If I can just make it through the next nine hours, maybe something will change" they think. How can it be that so many organizations are plagued by a survival mode mentality? Can we help these leaders who feel like they're losing their soul? Why did we ever buy into the false narrative that work has to suck? There is hope for frustrated managers.

The customer suffers as well. At its very core, the work of Customer Experience (CX) is the timely effort of collecting customer data and solving relevant problems over the long run. It takes a great deal of patience and strategic vision on behalf of the organization to make CX a priority. If you're in survival mode, there's no time to focus and use this information to make your customers' lives easier. This is why (even with the overwhelming amount of data tying CX investment to revenue growth as shown here) so few companies actually follow through on customer experience initiatives. Survival mode is also a natural precursor to organizational silos. When leaders under pressure become territorial and raise their draw bridges, it's the customer who ultimately pays the price.

It's time to go from surviving to thriving for the sake of our employees and our customers.


5 Ways to Move From

Surviving To Thriving

1. Focus on the MIT (Most Important Behaviors For Success)

The number one cause of a survival mode culture is lack of clarity around what matters most. It's far better to focus on getting a few of the right priorities done every day, than accomplishing a list of 27 things that don't really matter. Use your CX data to understand what matters most to your customers and identify a few key behaviors that your team must do every day to make them happen. Karin's developed this FREE communication tool (you can download here) to help you have weekly discussions with your employees to be sure everyone is focused on what matters most.

2. Play the Game, Don't Game the Score

When looking at CX data, it's easy to get caught up in the numbers and to forget that behind those numbers are real people, living important lives that you are there to serve. Don't talk to your team about the numbers. Your customer doesn't care what you got on your internal score card. They care about what you deliver and how you make them feel.

Help your team to isolate the behaviors that will add real value. Teach them to reinforce these critical actions every day and the score will take care of itself. Above all else, don't let your managers "game the score" That is, don't let them waste time trying to artificially adjust measurements that aren't meaningful for your customers.

3. Go Get Lost In The Woods

Okay, so maybe you are not an "outdoorsy" person like us. The point is you need to step outside of your current situation in order to see yourself (and your problems) more clearly. Nate tries to take a quarterly sabbatical of sorts just to get some perspective. It's amazing how differently he can view his work and his family situation even after just a short amount of time away. This can be even more effective with if done alongside a mentor or trusted friend with wise counsel. Inertia is such a compelling and dangerous motivator. We continue down dangerous paths that result in our own self-destruction without even knowing it. Allow your mind the opportunity to hit the brakes and refresh.

4. Own The U.G.L.Y.

In Karin's work with companies around the world, she finds one of the easiest ways to help managers regain their time, focus and energy is to know what's gotta go. You can use this easy exercise to help your team talk about what they must stop doing, to free up more time to work their MIT (Most Important Thing) behaviors. Nate has used a "start, stop, keep" exercise many times to identify energy vampires and kill them.

5. Break The "Victim Mentality"

The odds are that your team (and possibly even you) struggles with a victim mentality. A person ruled by this condition is always looking for something or someone to blame. If there is not a fire burning, they will find one. Not having an external condition to absorb their time and energy will put them a scary place - they will have to face themselves. It's exceptionally difficult for people to become self-aware of their own victim mentality, and even harder to get out of it. There are two resources that have really helped me to break the chains of victim mentality. The first is Karin's book "Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results - Without Losing Your Soul." Nate went through this with his support leadership team and it was a game-changer for us. The second is called "Leadership and Self Deception" and will help to change your frame of thinking for anyone working with (or even just co-existing with) other people.


Even if you've been stuck in survival mode for years, there is hope. You can make a new choice today, by taking just one of these actions. Breaking old habits is hard, but isn't having a better relationship with your employees and your customers worth it?

Karin Hurt is CEO of Let's Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.'s list 100 Great Leadership Speakers for 2018 and the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch. She's the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results- Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She's regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

Nate Brown is the Co-founder of CX Accelerator. While Customer Service is his primary expertise, Nate is able to leverage experience in professional services, marketing, and sales to connect dots and solve the big problems. From authoring and leading a Customer Experience program, to journey mapping, to managing a complex contact center, Nate is always learning new things and sharing with the CX community. Twitter - @CustomerIsFirst LinkedIn - Nate Brown

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