Customer Experience is a multifaceted field and having great metrics and tools to work with is one part of the equation, but to become customer-centric companies also need to undergo organizational change. However, what does such a process of change mean? What are the challenges that such an undertaking throws up and solutions to remedy them? This week we speak to Ian Williams, the man behind London-based consultancy Jericho, to gain frontline insight into some of the organizational change issues that companies face in aligning themselves around the customer.
What do you think are some key areas why Customer Experience has been such a difficulty to implement?
Ian: There are essentially three major fields that need to be addressed to implement Customer Experience successfully; culture, leadership and employee experience, all of which are closely related, but subtly different. The readiness of an organization around these three fields determines how capable they will be at creating a better experience for their customers.
Firstly, what a lot of organizations don’t consider is the fact that having the right cultural environment in place is critical. So, if you have a culture with a very strong power bases and those power bases are at odds with each other, then trying to create a cross-functional philosophy across your organization is going to fail. Why? Because there are going to be some power bases that do not have it in their interest to accept and absorb Customer Experience, as some perceive it as threatening or weakening their position.
A common occurrence is that the frontline and those at the top the company understand Customer Experience, but those in middle management positions get nervous when you talk about removing well-established silos in place of cross-functional cooperation. They start to feel they will lose some of their power or responsibility, and as a result, they can hold back customer-centric initiatives. This problem isn’t exclusive to middle management, though, as silos can often exist at senior management level too.
Secondly, strong leadership is essential. In organizations that have highly ‘engrained’ cultural structures with strong power bases, as described in the first point, you need solid leadership in place to cut through those cultural and power challenges. This is directly impacted by the way in which Customer Experience is ‘positioned’ within the business.
Thirdly, is Employee Experience. For organization’s that don’t create the connection between Employee Experience and Customer Experience, Customer Experience is not going to work. For what is often found is that the issues that customers are raising as a problem will most likely be the same as those that employees are raising. So if your customers have a trust issue with the business, then you will probably find that your employees will have a trust issue too.
So in summary: What does the power look like and how does that impact the culture? Secondly, does the business have the leadership in place to overcome the cultural issues? Finally, has the business considered that Employee Experience is an integral part of delivering good Customer Experience?
Can you tell me a little bit more about what can be done to create the right cultural environment that fosters Customer Experience?
Ian: Regarding making change happen, what is truly difficult is making organizations fully embrace what Customer Experience actually is. One example that illustrates a common issue is where companies create a Customer Experience department or a Head of Customer Experience. And while there is nothing wrong with doing this, what can sometimes happen is that the business ‘functionalizes’ the problem, meaning the people at the very top take the view that they have that ‘base’ covered. As they have a team in place now to deal with Customer Experience, they think it should be great moving forward.
However in reality your Head of Customer Experience should always be your Chief Executive because leadership is the key to driving cultural change. If you make the assumption that your power bases are usually aligned with your organizational structures, then changing culture means you have to lead your way out of it. Changing culture is very hard to do company-wide if it is coming from just one department rather than from the very top.
Often Customer Experience is written about in very general terms. Are there any major problems that you see happening due to a lack of specificity?
Ian: One thing I am starting to notice is that there are those that truly understand Customer Experience, those who have no clue but admit this, and then there are those who think they have a good understanding but in actuality not as a good an understanding as they think.
Part of the problem is Customer Experience as a subject area is still relatively young. We have had decades of finance practices and operational practices, and marketing has been around for well over 100 years now, and all of these things are well understood. But Customer Experience is still not understood particularly well by everyone.
Certain standard things need to be in place to successfully run a Customer Experience transformation program. A common problem is that one of the starting positions for organizations wanting to do Customer Experience is that they want to lead with NPS®. Now NPS is great, it’s an excellent score, and I like to think of NPS as a health check for the organization as it helps businesses understand the sentiment of their customer base.
However having an understanding of what the advocacy levels of your customer base are is not the same as resolving all your Customer Experience problems. So a lot of the companies I speak to have NPS in place, it’s working, and they understand how their customers feel about them, but the experience of their customers isn’t getting any better.
NPS is just an example, in this case, but the point is that too many companies think all they need is a metric, and they will be okay. There has to be, in addition to a metric, a program for successful transformation, a series of steps to go through in order to improve Customer Experience.
Employee engagement seems to be something that many companies struggle to create, why do you think this is so?
Ian: If employees are feeling disengaged it’s probably for one of two reasons.
One, as employees maybe they are not having a great experience themselves - maybe the working environment is not great, or maybe their boss is not particularly friendly. You have to look at the total experience. You have to make sure your employees have a great experience. When we work with organizations, we don’t just look at the customer journey, we also look at the employee journey and sometimes look at it on a function-by-function basis. By looking at the employee journey, you get to see what the employee experience is like, giving you an opportunity to improve it.
The second, which is related, is all about empowerment. So employees will feel engaged if they feel like they are allowed to do their job, which means giving them the right tools and decision-making powers. There are even examples of companies where employees don’t follow the rules, yet are rewarded for breaking the rules if it means that they are doing the right thing for the customer. Another principle, taken from the Systems Thinking world, is getting your front line – the people who deal with the customer on a day-to-day basis – actually to lead your transformational change rather than your management team. This can help the business by-pass some of the cultural issues described earlier.
Nobody goes to work to do a bad job, but often people become unhappy in their job because they can’t do the job they want to or are even employed to do!
So you need to resolve these two issues to have engaged employees - great employee experience and real empowerment.
There a lot of debate about the idea that your customers can be a great source of innovation. What do you think about the customer's voice within innovation?
Ian: One of the mistakes that companies make is they create an Innovation department. However, innovation can come from anywhere. It can come from customers, and it can come from the frontline. If you create an innovation department, what you are effectively saying is that anybody outside of this department doesn’t have the right or ability to come up with new ideas, which is kind of crazy.
At times, customers have great ideas or simple needs, and you have to listen and make them part of the way you drive innovation through the organization. But sometimes customers don’t know what they want. They don’t always know what is best for them. For example, we all have smartphones now, and nobody knew, including customers, that it would be the all-pervasive item it is today.
Innovation can come from anywhere and everywhere. One example I like to use is when Apple was developing the iPhone 4, they changed from a rounded edge (on the iPhone 3) to a square edged phone. This created the problem of it being able to break very easy because of the square corners. So they came up with the idea of putting a metal strip on the outside edge. Titanium was suggested, being one of the strongest metals, but many dissenting voices in Apple said it was too expensive, saying that it would push the price of the phone too high. Steve Jobs pretty much ignored their concerns and demanded that they use titanium. As a result, Apple became one of the biggest buyers of titanium overnight, they drove the price down, and the iPhone remained the customer success product it is today. In this case, innovation came from the brilliant mind of one man.
He was an individual who instinctively knew what customers would want. He may have listened to customer feedback at times, but he was also an individual who, on the most part, innovated irrespective of what the market was doing or saying.
The point is that there are no rules about innovation.
About Ian Williams
Starting Jericho six years ago and working within both b2b and the b2c, Ian’s consultancy has worked within the financial services, utilities, telecommunications and consumer durables sectors. Jericho’s primary aim is to improve top and bottom line performance by working with organizations to influence their customers to do three things: Buy more, stay longer and spread the good news.
Ian takes a holistic view of customer experience as being everything an organization does that impacts the experience customers receive. If you want to learn more about Ian and Jericho, you can find the website right here or his twitter @CustExpMan.
Alternatively, learn about customer experience and NPS from those that have lived it by viewing our case study videos.