Updated: Sep 18, 2022
Sally Mildren, CEO Clarity PX & Boss Lady Consulting
Matt Beran, Sr. Product Marketing Specialist InvGate
Many leaders do in fact think they are supporting Customer Experience in their organization. After all they have approved a resource and some budget to it. If we are being honest, that’s as committed as it gets for many executive and operational leaders.
And although the most profitable and successful companies across every sector globally, are also the ones that have the highest CX scores, adoption is slow in many organizations. Budget, personnel, structure, culture, organizational habits, and lack of demonstrable progress impact sustained operational commitment to customer experience. It's easy (and normal) for doubt to creep in.
So, how do you know if it’s time to go or time to stand up strong and lead your organizational leaders toward CX buy-in? There is case for each, but we’ll start with recognizing the signs that your organization may not truly be committed to customer experience.
Recognizing the symptoms
There are two primary points where you will want to be able to recognize the symptoms of surface-level customer experience focus. During recruiting and interviewing, and while you’re navigating the politics and daily work of your career as well as projects and major initiatives, you may notice some of these symptoms:
1. Lack of process
You may notice teams don’t have a way to “do CX”, or that they are “doing it” but in a different form or an inexperienced way. Pick a specific design cycle step and inquire deeper. Something authentic and concrete like “how do you share user research among the teams?” will help you not only validate that user research exists, but you’ll also be able to hear how they collaborate on the research itself. How is research shared, discussed, distributed and analyzed?
If nobody has seen the research or the analysis, that’s a big red flag!
2. Not hiring the right roles and skills for the various design roles like research, prototyping and testing
Push for transparency in these situations. “Why are you building this team?” “How will the company, processes and products adapt to this new teams’ way of working?” “How much authority will the Customer Experience function be granted?"
These situations are ripe for problems, so use caution and know what work lies ahead. Do you want to join a team that already has a mature design cycle - or do you want to build one and change the organization and process? Both are CX work, but knowing which work you’ll be doing will help set your expectations and guide your interview conversations. Remember that experience design is something everyone does, not just a small team or one person.
3. Leaders claiming to be “customer focused” without ever telling customer stories or observing them themselves
Although one might think this is easy to recognize, never underestimate the power of denial, manipulation and hope. When working to raise the power of the voice of the customer in an organization, you can typically judge the value placed on the voice by the actions of the teams. Once at a large telco where we were getting developers to change their mindset about being involved with the customer. We put up signs in each team area that displayed the number of customer visits that team had made that month.
If the number ever got down to single-digits, it was an unspoken sign to that teams’ leader to get some customer visits scheduled. Fully remote team? Then get your developers shadowing customers in small groups so they can work together.
These field visit frequency signs are just one example of how an organization practices customer experience across teams. You see, you’re looking for signs of healthy experience design throughout the various teams of the organization. Not just within the customer experience team.
4. Projects that talk about stakeholders, users and requirements without ever sharing the actual research that led to those requirements
This might be called the “trust me” problem – where ideas are built behind closed doors and research is either heavily guarded because of power, politics or abuse – or because it isn’t authentic.
Experienced designers know the value of bringing the project team closer to the user and customer research. Reaching insights together is the easiest way to align and agree on what the next steps and priorities for the project should be.
One symptom of healthy CX within an organization is when employees and project members quote customers or reference specific research insights on a regular basis.
5. Conflict, blowups and other unprofessional conduct
Perhaps the saddest and most terrifying symptom of not listening to customers is when product owners, executives and other people who have been building what they want for years feel attacked and devalued as their voices are given less importance. This is the most easily identified symptom, and also the most traumatic.
It should also be noted that there are valid projects and reasons to exclude customers. Internal processes, obvious gaps and other product and service shortcomings can oftentimes be initiatives that don’t require customer inputs. Since this is a gray area, you’ll have to trust your judgment, or evaluate the responses you get to determine the attitude and perception of the importance of involving customers.
Know your limits, set healthy boundaries and protect your health and professional image. You may need it soon!
So, CX Leader, the truth is, if these symptoms exist in your work and you find yourself frustrated by a lack of support for CX, it’s up to you to either make a change (more on that later), or learn to manage up, down, and across your organization to gain that buy-in.
You aren’t just a CX professional – you are an architect, the engineer, and the marketing mouthpiece for an organizational transformation that is not well understood…or even in some cases, seen as essential. It takes leaders with eyes wide open to the risks and pitfalls to champion this kind of change and see CX adopted as a cultural and operational norm in a business. But it’s exciting and worth it.
A few reminders for those leading CX “buy-in” for an organization:
1. It’s not only about you.
Leading this kind of organizational transformation requires that you study and understand the pressure points, expectations, and deliverables for your colleagues and leaders across the company. To gain broad buy-in, you need allies and vocal supporters who understand how CX will positively help them, their teams, and departments.
2. Be relevant.
You must tie your work to the business KPIs to gain sustainable support and buy in. Satisfaction is too squishy. How are your CX programs going to impact the bottom line? Revenue? Retention? And how does that calculate into actual dollars? If you don’t know, make friends with the CFO or data folks and find out. Your biggest strength in working with busy executives will be in tying to the measures they are on the hook for.
3. Demonstrate success.
Go ahead, show the figures, tell the stories, share the proof – at every chance you get. Your every conversation should include a story, data point, impact, or lesson. Don’t keep the numbers to yourself. You must be able to show quickly and succinctly the growth being driven, in part, from your work. Not just to your boss, but to the other leaders or areas of the organization. The old adage, “a rising tide, floats all boats” applies here. When you improve the organization, everyone wins. Create allies by showing how your work can help other areas.
4. Pay attention to your boss’ and CEO’s pressure points.
It might sound self-serving, but in truth, if your boss is under pressure for a new initiative to retain members, your work should support their success in that initiative. If you hear new things in conversation, add that data point to all your reports. If finances are tight and projections are concerning (hello Q3, we see you), show how the retention of every member is worth X$/mo and then calculate that into a dollar figure. Be smart, not a know-it-all. Know your worth, the value of your work and demonstrate how it is relevant in solving their problems.
5. Optimize, optimize, optimize.
At the end of the day, being a CX leader takes intelligence, grit, innovation, collaboration,
communication, and most of all perseverance. It’s an area of exploration, success, and yes, failure. And if you have old-school top-level leaders, the idea of failure is frowned upon, as if everything they have touched worked perfectly. So, call it optimization instead. Every step is a “test” – you are refining and honing the strategy, the message, and evaluating the data for insights on the customer’s responses to our changes. We’re not suggesting blowing smoke up nether regions, but don’t get hung up on things if something doesn’t work. It’s not failure – it's a lesson in optimizing your initiatives.
6. Never lose sight of humans.
Finally, don’t ever lose sight of the customer or human at the end of your work. Although it sounds counterintuitive to what we’ve just said, THEY are why you are in business. THEY matter more than KPIs. Ultimately, if they are happy, your KPIs will reflect that.
Deciding to Stay or Go
Assess your situation
How bad is it? Have you discovered a small portion of the company that doesn’t respect customer research, or is this more widespread? Once you have a general understanding of how this organization practices Customer Experience Management and Design - you can start to make decisions.
Take inventory. How much social equity do you have within the organization? If the situation is dire, do you have enough to change hearts and minds? How much power do you and your team have to influence other teams’ actions?
What opportunities do you have to improve, contribute and convince others? Do you feel like you have enough autonomy that you could grow CX focused initiatives in a small way?
Try to take a clear look at what CX wins and gaps you have. And then you can use this assessment to make a decision.
Do I stay or do I go? Once you’ve assessed your situation, take this insight to determine if you have enough justification, results and power to improve the focus on customers. The most important part of this part of your journey is setting healthy boundaries.
Many times people resist the urge to listen to customer because of an emotional response. They have fear, uncertainty or some other kind of doubt about the outcomes of getting close to customers.
This emotional response can lead to strange behaviors like saying one thing and doing another, sabotaging ideas and other ways that emotions come out sideways. So make sure you are willing to deal with these discomforts while protecting yourself. If, at any point, you feel unsafe or in danger, please seek professional assistance. No business or goal is worth your safety.
Once you’ve decided to either invest deeper or look for work elsewhere, revisit this decision as you move forward into taking action.
Do they actually want to change? Sustained Buy-In.
If it is: Try to begin building your allies and collaborators in the organization. Get crystal clear on the key KPIs and goals your work needs to influence. Create demonstrable evidence of your impact to the bottom-line and to humans. Don’t stop talking about the value and worth of your work. Be the evangelist for CX.
If it isn’t...
Pay attention to what you need and want. Get help if you need to process through some thinking. A mentor is really helpful in these situations (@cxaccelerator has a mentor program! 😁 ). Or begin to look at other opportunities. But it’s important you are very clear on what is missing and what you want so you don’t just repeat the same lesson at a new location.
If it is....
...but not having the impact – get some help. Seek advice from a mentor (CX Accelerator is a great place to start) and learn from others. Sign up for a webinar, read, study other case studies and see what you might be missing.
This is a tremendous decision you are wrestling with. As the Proverb says, there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. It can be hard to determine the difference between our own perceptions about what is going on...and the broader reality of the organization. Be sure to talk through these situations with people you trust and are not afraid to tell you when you may harboring unrealistic expectations.
You deserve to have an amazing job were you can make a tremendous impact for customers. Keep being bold to either create it or find it. We are rooting for you!
Sally Mildren has more than 20 years of leadership experience in marketing, communications, branding, and customer experience. She has been a member of executive leadership in non-profits, systems, clinics, start-ups and large corporations, primarily in healthcare. She established the pilot and foundation for Customer Experience for a health insurer who serves 48 states nationally and is ranked 38 on the Fortune 500 list.
Known for a human centered approach and empathy in leadership and operations, Sally is now the CEO and founder of Boss Lady Consulting and Clarity PX, agencies helping businesses in and out of healthcare to identify, prioritize and operationalize CX supported by aligned branding and culture.
Both agencies offer full marketing support for growth, brand alignment, event management, fractional leadership, and strategic support to embed CX successfully in an organization.
Matt Beran has over 20 years of experience in Service Management and Customer Service. He has served in various roles in the Service Desk, as a Consultant and inExperience Design. His clients include global corporations and medium enterprises working in many different industries. Known for challenging industry norms, practical advice and unique approaches to Service Management, Matt is now serving as an IT Industry Analyst at InvGate; a software company building better IT experiences.
He is also the host of Ticket Volume, a weekly podcast about Information Technology and is a highly regarded speaker at conferences and networking events. His favorite topics introduce new ways of thinking about service experiences and improving team collaboration.