Understanding Common Critical Aspects Of A Customer Experience Organization

“Yes, but don’t we need a team for that? What does that team look like?” I was talking to an executive recently about customer experience when she posed that question. The answer was not one that could be quickly provided. It depends deeply on the current organization, its business and operational capabilities, and its overall effectiveness in those capabilities. In short, it depends. However, even if it does depend on those (and a lot of other) variables, there are some common, and critical, functions that a customer experience organization must either perform or be able to tap into the rest of the enterprise to provide on its behalf.

The final design of a customer experience organization relies heavily on the strategy in place. If the strategic roadmap, for example, outlines that the organization has state-of-the-art systems, but the process and people side of things are lacking, then the customer experience organization is likely to include more process design specialists and organizational change experts.

Whatever the strategy and whatever the organization, a few general items are imperative. The first is that the customer experience organization has a strong program for – and people adept at – stakeholder management. The goal of the organization is to effect change and drive a new way of doing things, putting the customer at the center of a profitable approach. That means other leaders and employees will need to get on board, and managing those relationships throughout the journey will be critical. Often this means a purposeful and established program to ensure regular follow-ups, and a clear and easy point of contact is defined for each major stakeholder. The CX organization is trying to drive the change throughout the business, so they have the accountability when it comes to the relationship with stakeholders.

The second is that it is necessary to give it some teeth. By that I mean it must have some form of influence within the enterprise, either in the form of a carrot or a stick, and hopefully both. In some places, we have seen this implemented by appropriating a substantial amount of the annual discretionary budget reserved for projects. Giving the new CX organization funding in this way puts them at the center of the projects and programs that will be moving the business forward. Other departments will come knocking, as they have done where we have seen this in effect, in order to get things done. In this way, the new customer experience organization can make sure that those things get done in a way that benefits the customer while also being good for the business (something we call the Sweet Spot of Customer Experience). In other places, we have seen the CX organization armed with veto rights. For any major initiative that impacts the customer (and they get to decide what initiatives impact the customer), they have the right to stop the project. You can bet those other departments and other projects get their feedback and input up front and that the design of the customer experience is well represented.

With those two items in mind, there are at least five common critical functions a customer experience organization must perform or have performed on their behalf.

Strategic Design and Management
If you don’t have a customer experience strategy defined and a clear roadmap to achieving it, then you, someone, or a team needs to build it. There are many key parts to a strategy (see this prior post for more details), but without this one, your business has no customer experience direction and you are very likely to spin your wheels, chasing trends and not fully realizing the benefits of a strong customer experience focus.

If you do have a strategy, then it must be managed and maintained. As with any journey or roadmap, there will be and need to be stops along the way. Some side trips might even be required. By that I mean it is impossible to define a two- or three-year strategy and follow it perfectly. Some efforts will take longer than initially thought. Competitors will do things in the marketplace that might require a response. Making decisions along the way and knowing when to stick to the roadmap or when it is okay to pursue new opportunities or respond to rising threats takes patience, expertise, and skill. Done correctly, strategic design and management ensures that the strategic goals and objectives remain in sight even if the path and/or the means have to change along the way. To take the analogy to extremes: Even though the Griswolds stopped at Cousin Eddie’s on the way and had to drop off their dear, departed Aunt Edna while being occasionally tempted off course by Christie Brinkley, Clark kept the end goal in sight and got his family to Walley World. We’ll end the analogy there and not talk about the closed park and taking the security guard hostage. Sorry if I just spoiled the movie for you, but it debuted in 1983, so you’ve had 30 years to watch it.

Clark and the family aside, this function is also responsible for documenting and maintaining journey maps, customer segmentation approaches, touchpoint inventories, Moments of Truth, and similar artifacts and knowledge base.

Insights and Analytics
While strategy design and management is one item best done internally, measuring and analyzing key indicators of the customer experience is one that can be performed by a centralized analytics group if that function already exists. This includes a strong foundation in the key business metrics tracked and measured regularly as part of determining the performance and health of the company. These enterprise-level metrics are important because they’ll be a crucial part of business cases and determining the impact of customer experience efforts on the things that really matter to the business.

It also entails the development and management of voice of the customer programs. We all know it is important to get closer to our customers, but a strong analytics function is required to know what kinds of questions to ask and where to look for answers if they are not as evident as we would like. This voice of the customer analysis is just part of identifying the full set of measurements and metrics that may need to be tracked. This likely includes the ability to identify, categorize, and dig through company data stores to determine underlying causes and correlations that might point the way to a more impactful implementation of the customer experience.

Finally, this group will be critical when it comes to business case development and tracking against those business cases. Each initiative on your roadmap needs a clear and comprehensive business case with both hard and soft benefits outlined. The insights and analysis group/function within your CX organization are the ones to let you know what can be achieved and if or when you have achieved it.

Back to the Griswolds – while we might not agree with his desired metrics, Clark’s main barometer of his family’s journey was mostly time. With his meticulous schedule, he knew exactly how far behind they were at all times and the exact impact that would have on either their interim goals (like the Grand Canyon) or the end goal of Walley World. I would like to think he was also keeping a close eye on a softer metric: his family’s enjoyment of the trip.

Organizational Change and Culture Development
Another required function is to engender a customer-centric culture and way of thinking across the enterprise. This is no easy feat and involves everything from potentially influencing hiring practices to ensuring effective communication. A lot has been written about more deeply engaged employees, and this is the function that does that. It also involves getting their leadership on board. In our work, we have seen plenty of companies communicate well and provide strong motivational messaging to the organization, but without the right people and right incentives, you will not get the right behaviors.

Specific activities might include development and delivery of training as well as the planning, creation, and delivery of communications. Also included are deeper HR-related functions noted above with respect to hiring and incentives, but also employee and leadership development programs. Finally, for each project on the roadmap, a change management function is required to ensure adoption and effectiveness of the project’s outcome.

In this regard, our friend Clark is again a model for what not to do. I’m not sure he ever got the family fully on board, and his communications were not entirely in line with what they needed to understand and adopt his objectives. When he did try to teach his son Russ something (recall sharing the beer in the desert), we find that Russ, in his father’s absence, has essentially taught himself already.

Implementation and Governance
We group these two items together because one can be thought of as “doing” while the other is making sure what has been done isn’t undone. As we noted earlier, a customer experience strategy should come with a roadmap of projects and initiatives. This function oversees and manages those projects and initiatives to completion. It does this through accepted project management tools, processes, and methodologies. If they do not exist, then this function must ensure they are created.

As the manager of the portfolio of projects, this function also works very closely with the strategic design and management function described earlier to develop the business cases and ensure they can be delivered upon. Often this means providing the cost estimates associated with a project’s delivery, a key component of determining viability and key metrics like the ROI.

Governance kicks in with building the processes and mechanisms by which impacts to the customer experience can be controlled. All too often, we have seen well-meaning initiatives aimed at saving costs, driving efficiency, or improving revenue have an adverse effect on the customer experience and end up hurting the business more than they help. As an example that doesn’t involve the Griswolds, consider a new fee structure or a newly defined set of fees that are designed to drive incremental revenue (like for checked bags on an airline). If customers do not accept those new fees, they are likely to leave for a competitor that might be actively marketing themselves as an alternative to all those fees.

One retail services company eliminated coffee from their waiting areas at one point in their history. As a major player in their industry, several upstarts had taken to setting up offices near theirs to benefit from favorable traffic patterns and demographics without paying for the analysis and modeling that finding a new location required. Their tactic was to capture overflow, but they got more than that when customers grew tired of waiting without any refreshment and wandered in to their office. A simple cost saving measure to eliminate coffee ended up disrupting the customer experience and driving away customers that would have happily waited their turn if simply given a cheap, hot drink. With the appropriate customer experience governance in place (like the veto power described earlier), this moderate cost saving effort could have been denied in favor of retaining far more valuable customers and the revenue they represented.

Griswold’s governance? I am not sure he had anything good in that regard either. He used a fake pistol near the end of the movie to influence another person in an attempt to ensure his family enjoyed the experience he envisioned. Somehow that worked out for him, but again Clark was a bit off-base with how he tried to deliver and govern the family’s experience at Walley World.

When creating any CX organization take these four aspects into consideration and make sure each is represented. Like all programs, your customer experience organization needs to be tailored to your business and your industry, but the one thing I can definitely say about your CX organization is to not use the Griswolds as your benchmark. We have much better benchmarks and much better models we can discuss with you. Please reach out to my Andrew Reise colleagues or myself to have a chat.

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