Back to basics post #4!
Language. You know by now how important we’ve found language to be to your customer experience efforts. We’ve done a ton of research on the words that confuse customers, and how to replace them.
It makes sense that language that is specific to an industry isn’t language that most consumers understand. Whether we’re talking about a prospectus or a provider, or using acronyms that Eric-in-accounting created (and that NO ONE understands) – that all makes sense. Speak clearly to your customers and don’t use made up or industry specific terms or acronyms.
But one of the things that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is the importance of using the right language with your executive team.
I’m often called into service to have a conversation with executive teams about their customer experience initiatives. More often than not, I’ll be hired either by a CEO or a Chief Experience Officer/Chief Marketing Officer/Chief Operating Officer/Chief Digital Officer.
I’ve been singing the value of CX to the C-suite for years, and pushing them to push the envelope. So executive teams are generally on board.
If the CEO brings in Chief Customer, it’s usually because they’re frustrated with a lack of progress with their customer experience efforts. They feel like they’re investing heavily, and they aren’t getting the progress or the traction they are expecting.
If the CXO/CMO/COO/CDO brings us in, the story sounds eerily similar. They’re frustrated with the CEO’s lack of buy in, or the CFO’s lack of funding support. They’ve built all sorts of plans and journeys and know exactly what needs to be fixed for their customer, but they can’t get traction and can’t make progress.
When I arrive on the scene, I generally find it really boils down to one thing: language.
The customer experience leader and team talks about the journey map they did. And how they identified a moment of truth. And how that moment of truth will drive NPS or CES.
Then the executive teams will tell me that they don’t see the value, that the case hasn’t been made. So, I’ll translate for them:
- We’ve identified places where we can make processes more efficient.
- When we make those processes more efficient, we’ll remove cost from the operation.
- One side effect is that we’ll see a decrease in contacts coming into our company (cost reduction!).
- Another side effect is that we’ll see an increase in satisfaction from our customers because we made something easier for them.
The real issue? The CX team has been speaking the language of customer experience. It is full of jargon and acronyms that the executive teams don’t understand.
CX professionals have created a language that doesn’t always translate to the language of prioritization, funding, and business decisions. Think about your customers both down and up the org chart.
We, as part of our customer experience practice, have to act as translators. We own the voice of customer, so let’s take those learnings through the tools we’ve built and translate them to “business speak.” Because that’s how we’ll get executive teams aligned and understanding what needs to be done.
We plan for how to convince peers and front line workers of the value the customer experience programs we’re developing. And might forget to look up at the C-suite folks. They hired you. They gave you the initial funding for the program. Speaking to them in a language that they understand shows them you get it. And they’re getting their money’s worth.
So stop talking journeys, moments of truth and NPS/CES. Start talking ROI, savings and growth.
You’re not alone. Here are some common questions we’ve been asked over the years:
Q: Our CEO wants us to improve our website. How do we convince the digital team that we’re their partner in this, and that involving CX from the beginning will create a smoother process?
A: We have so many titles these days. I remember trying to get the original “Customer Experience Architect” job description approved at Cigna in 2007. People were so confused. They couldn’t understand the difference between an Information Architect, a Solution Architect, a Business Architect, and this new Customer Experience Architect role. I think we’ve even further conflated it now with the separation of so many digital roles from technology and marketing.
What we’ve found works really, really well is to approach your partners in peace. If you walk in with the mentality that you own the customer, thus you’re the final vote, it just won’t work.
When you can come to the table — the very first time — with data that perhaps the digital team doesn’t have, and if you make it very clear to them that you are there to help and play a supporting role, things seem to go a heck of a lot more smoothly.
One thing I’ve always told Customer Experience Architects: their title alone doesn’t grant them access, their service to their internal customer does. We’ve found time and time again that if you truly do add value, partner the right way, and help other teams create successful customer experiences, you’ll be in high demand.
Q: We’re starting our customer experience program from the ground up. We know we have to walk before we run, so what are the most important things to do first, to lay a strong foundation?
A: One of the biggest mistakes we’ve found is that companies start up a customer experience team, then launch them out into the ether. The team is usually made up of people who have come from other parts of the organization — and generally led by someone who has been hired from the outside.
So often we find that there are three major tripping points that these teams hit:
- They jump directly into journey mapping. You can’t do this. You can’t start with journey mapping. It just doesn’t work. You can journey map the heck out of your organization, and then you end up with a pile of gorgeous art with no money to fix anything. We’ve talked a ton about how to set your Customer Experience strategy on our blog. You have to follow those steps to build a strategy long before you journey map.
- They skip the step of evangelizing. The first step we talk about at Chief Customer is the “Prove” step. That is where you gather all your voice of customer data, build your strategy and make your business cases.
The next step is evangelize. Evangelize is when you go out on the road, C-Suite to front lines, and make your case. You ask for help. You ask people to be a part of the transformation. You show them exactly what you need them to do differently. (This is way more than slapping a new mission statement on a wall, but learn more about evangelizing tools here).
So many teams just start. They start demanding action and change. But they haven’t taken the time to make their case and then create their culture change roadmap. They haven’t done the work to get the teams on board.
- They only tackle big things. I’ve been quoted multiple times saying, “A Customer Experience transformations is a marathon, filled with sprints.” You simply have to create a plan that solves for both. It can take up to 18 months for changes you make to show up in your metrics. And if you sign up for a 4-year project, you just simply won’t have enough wins to keep the momentum going. And then you’ll fail.
You’ve got to attack the big projects and the minis simultaneously. Get the small wins. They’ll help bolster the company to keep funding the big projects.
Q: What’s the most challenging conversation you’ve had with a CFO?
A: I love my CFOs. They are in charge of holding the purse strings, and are more often than not, pretty adverse to spending. What I have learned over the years is that the only thing they like better than budget cuts, is customer growth.
I had a CFO (and no, I won’t name names) who treated me like a “nice-to-have-but-not-key” member of the executive team. We both worked for the CEO. We sat next to each other in meeting after meeting. Yet, whenever it was my turn to talk about what we were finding, doing, asking for, his eyes literally glazed over.
It was the moment when I truly realized that I wasn’t speaking his language. He is the inspiration for this entire blog post. So, I hired a woman from his team. She taught me his language. We built customer life time value models and then I had her present them to him and his leadership team. They spoke the same language. We were able to back into the “proof” he needed to fund our work. We showed him the facts:
- Customers were leaving us because of three specific reasons.
- Those reasons all happened within the first 24 months of their experience with us.
- Those customers weren’t profitable for us until they have been with us for 50 months.
BAM. Done. It was exhausting. It was an enormous amount of work — it took months. I had to learn an entirely new way of thinking about how to propose the work. But it worked.
Q: I’ve noticed the terms “customer experience” and “customer engagement” and “customer service” and “customer success” seem to be used interchangeably. There’s still a difference, right?
A: My #CXOpinion (my favorite hashtag) is this: at the end of the day, we’re all after the same thing. We’re creating all sorts of different terms in order to siphon off parts of what happens between a customer and a company. But we all pretty much have the same goals:
- Get more customers.
- Keep more customers.
- Have customers who buy more from you.
- Have customers who recommend you to others.
- Have customers who say lovely things about you in public.
Customer success seems to be very business to business to me.
Customer service seems to be both business to business and business to consumer.
Customer engagement seems to be mostly business to consumer and all about behavior change.
Customer experience, I believe, is the umbrella that sits over everything. The definition I’ve been using for 19 years now (aging myself, I know) is:
Customer Experience is the sum of all interactions a person has with your company throughout their life.
So, perhaps it would behoove us to simplify how we talk about ourselves. ☺
Q: Our organization is very siloed, and the product, marketing, and CX teams aren’t all part of one overall department — and don’t all report into the same executive. Any advice for cross-departmental team building?
A: When I was starting the first Customer Experience team at Cigna, we truly approached it as if we were a consultancy. I used an old consulting firm that some friends had started (Diamond Management Consulting), as my inspiration. The team members from Diamond were humble, always made you look good, and were the hardest working members of any team. And they truly became a part of the teams they worked with.
When we were starting the transformation at Cigna, not only were all the functions siloed, but we were simply viewed as an additional pain in the ass. I had four Customer Experience Architects — and we worked really hard to emulate the Diamond model.
We were there to help. We were there to make you look good. We would do some of the dirty work. We’d give you all the wins. And each of them truly became a part of the teams they sat on. They were so good at their jobs that even during the recession, we were allowed to add four more architects to the team because so many business units were asking for our help. That was the best sign of success I could have hoped for.