Archive | March, 2013

“Not you again! Go away” Talking customer experience with the CEO

20 Mar

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Spare a thought for the poor CEO. No, really. When the conversation turns to customer experience, we often find we’re talking different languages. We say ‘love your customers’; they think Show me the money’. Talk of building a long term and sustainable business centred on the customer seems a little fanciful when shareholders are demanding jam tomorrow, and let’s face it, like football managers, the average CEO tenure is getting shorter all the time.

So, no wonder it can be hard to talk customer. Here, then are seven thoughts on how to get the CEO (and others) at least on the same page as you when you next broach the subject of customers:

  • Count the cost of failure: talking about the cost of failing today can be more compelling than talking about possible jam tomorrow. After all, as the old adage has it, it costs more to deliver a bad experience than it does a good one, which makes sense when you consider the added cost of all the re-work, correcting mistakes, handling complaints and dealing with all those in-bound contacts from unhappy customers chasing you. None of which would have been required had you got it right in the first place.  Virgin Media report that in 2009, they spent an extra £12m delivering a poor experience (scoring 0 in NPS), compared to the experience that scored a 10! And that it costs 50% more to serve a zero scoring detractor than it does a promoter. 
  • Look beyond the numbers: dry, abstract and aggregated data, pie charts, red-amber-green indicators and spreadsheets are all well and good, but they’re not all that engaging. CEOs are more or less human like the rest of us; as Alain Thys says, “while pie charts have their place, the actual words of the 749 customers who told you that your business sucks will have infinitely more impact. The same goes for the words of the 135 people who absolutely love you”.   Words convey and evoke emotions in ways that numbers don’t. And when it comes to numbers, think small, not big: Howard Schultz of Starbucks put it well when he said, “Large numbers that once captivated me – 40,000 stores – are not what matter. The only number that matters is ‘one’. One cup. One customer. One experience at a time”.  
  • Make it personal, get angry: by applying the golden rule – how would you feel if it was you? I recall the Singaporean General Manager at my previous company, Aviva, who, when in the middle of her executive interview for a customer journey mapping exercise, was shown a system generated letter we’d printed off. At that point, she stopped the interview mid-stream, ran out and told her team to stop issuing this unfriendly and ‘off-brand’ letter immediately, and to re-write it. OK, maybe disruptive, but a little bit of righteous anger and frustration can work wonders, as well as send out a powerful signal to the rest of the organisation about what it’s not prepared to put up with.
  • Break it down: the problem with customer experience is, it’s big! All this talk about cross-functional collaboration can sound scary and well, too much like hard work. The fact is, customers don’t care how you’re organised internally, and delivering a great experience can challenge the silo’d organisation. The answer? Start small, pilot and ‘bank’ the early successes. The global insurer, ING built a very effective NPS programme around small scale pilots, and winning the advocacy of the local CEO; as the programme lead at the time said, “We went to the board with our pilot results and the two country CEOs did all the talking. You can’t really argue with two very successful CEOs who are bringing in business and telling you that they can’t live without this approach any more”.
  • Get them out there, rubbing shoulders with customers, feeling the pain: It’s hard to connect with customers when you’re sitting behind a desk. My own rail company, Southeastern Railways is famous for regularly holding “meet the manager” events at London Bridge station in the rush hour, where 10 or so senior directors gather with their clipboards, listening to their customers. And, as you can imagine, some of this feedback is going to be pretty frank and direct.  
  • Bring in the lawyers, and other folk outside marketing: the fact is, delivering great, consistent customer experiences is a company-wide job and every part has a role to play. Qaalfi Dibeehi of Beyond Philosophy recently said at a conference that only about 20% of the customer experience is delivered by the ‘front line’; the other 80% originates behind the scenes in product design, IT, process, finance, and so on. So, you’re either an experience deliverer or an experience enabler. So, the magic begins to happen when you get a bunch of cross-functional people in the room and you show them what it feels like to be a customer. I recall one time when we were walking people through the customer paperwork, all displayed on the walls. At first the senior lawyer remained sitting down, confident that all the literature was legally OK, but, intrigued by the noise coming from everyone else, then started to listen in. At that moment, she had her road-to-Damascus moment, her revelation that just being legally compliant isn’t good enough. She then became a very strong and respected advocate for the customer. The more you can break the ‘customer’ out of the marketing ghetto, and have the CEO hear the lawyers, the finance guys and so on, talking with passion about the customer, the better.
  • Show me the money:  there should be a direct line of sight between happy customers and business outcomes, whether they are lower costs, customers staying longer or buying more.  Case studies from other sectors will only take you so far. Sooner or later the CEO will object, quite rightly, that ‘we’re not Zappos, or Disney, or Virgin….show me that it works in my own industry and for us!’ This won’t be easy, but there’s no substitute for relevant and specific financial proof. Get that and your CEO will be your new BFF.  One of the best examples I’ve seen is from the UK energy provider, E.ON in the UK, who were able (after much effort and time) to correlate customer lifetime value with each point on the NPS scale – see visual. So, as you start your customer experience journey, plan now for how you will also build the evidence you need to win over your sceptics.
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