People in Customer Experience roles are an energetic, passionate bunch. They are also resilient and persevere. Nonetheless, in the last few days I’ve been approached by a couple of Customer Experience teams who are feeling a little lost right now. They were asking for examples of practical things they could be doing in these uncharted times.
Of course the wider context is that many friends and colleagues have been laid off, furloughed or have been assigned to other roles for the foreseeable future. It may, understandably, be the least of your or their priorities right now. Our collective health and well-being is what matters right now.
But, if you are in a Customer Experience role and your thoughts turn to making the best of a bad situation, I hope these suggestions may help a little. It’s based on my own experience and on what I hear others are doing. Please add your thoughts to the LinkedIn post on what else you are focusing on.
There have been some great examples of how businesses are acknowledging that we’ve suddenly entered a very different and uncertain world. They are sincere and not making a thinly-disguised sales pitch. Your Sales or Marketing team may be under severe pressure to wring out every last revenue opportunity; if that’s the case at least get them to be very transparent and honest. We’re all customers in our own right and we’ll remember how we were treated through this period.
We’ll remember we felt in the UK when we heard the National Trust was opening the doors to its parks and grounds for free. It was a necessarily short-lived but hugely well-intended gesture. We appreciate supermarkets telling us what they’re doing and how we can help them help us. We doff our hat to people like Joe Wicks who give us exercise classes every morning for free. But we’ll also remember what we thought of Sports Direct when the leaderships team tried to make a case that they were essential and must stay open for business.
There are tough times all round at the moment. If you haven’t lost your own job, chances are you know someone who has. Sparks of positivity can easily get smothered in a blanket of uncertainty.
More than ever before we must look out for each other. A quick call, an email or text just to check-in. In the work context, keep spirits up by sharing stories, reliving examples of brilliant customer experiences. Keep talking about what made / makes your organisation different and special.
Draw out the positives from the current situation such as creativity and camaraderie but don’t ignore the signs of people who might be struggling.
Beyond that, engage as best you can, asking them what they need from you as leaders, what would make them (even) prouder, how would they improve communications and what tools, focus or information do they need to deliver the right customer experiences.
Review VoC and Metrics
Now is not the time for process audits disguised as customer surveys. It never has been. There are many positives to be coming out of this situation especially around humanity, kindness and creativity but if it helps rid us of pointless ‘surveys’ that’s no bad thing either. For most companies it’s not really practical any more to ask “How was it?” or “You’d recommend us, right?”
More so than ever before, customers have questions even if they are not buying. We need to listen and listen-up well. How can you adapt your listening posts to ask customers what they need from you? How are you reviewing your understanding and reporting? If you’re not doing so already, close that loop; let customers know you’ve had their feedback and what you’re doing about it.
With one eye on the future, review your complete Voice of the Customer programme and think about what you ask customers, how you ask them and what you’ll do with what they tell you. Be clear on why you are asking any questions. Do you make your customers wade through 15 questions about income, postcode and their favourite film, before asking them what the experience was like and why, just to satisfy a hunger for data?
There may also now be an opportunity to set up that customer panel you’ve always wanted; another way of keeping customers engaged.
And once the CX Vision and Strategy is defined, will you carry on measuring the same stuff because it’s easy? Or, can you switch to measuring the things customers value the most and that are aligned to delivering on the strategy? Why measure advocacy rates to three decimal places when the strategic vision is, for example, all about making things more convenient and friendly? Why not plan to measure and report on those things aswell/instead? Is it a convenient time to shake off the obsession with the numbers and get the leadership team to focus instead on the qualitative drivers.
It might also be the time to address the persistent “what’s the ROI of customer experience?” question. Engage the boffins to see if they can calculate the correlation between better experiences, higher lifetime values and commercial performance indicators.
Keeping match fit in terms of thinking and planning is essential right now. We need to hit the ground running when we come out of this or put ourselves in a prime position to secure a new role.
Look at what other companies are doing to stay engaged with their customers and learn from the good and the mistakes. There are plenty of resources, podcasts and discussion forums such as those from Ian Golding, Jeanne Bliss and the CXPA. And of course, CX competency coaching and for the CCXP exam is still available remotely if you’re looking for a professional qualification.
As CX professionals it’s essential we have a commercial leaning in our conversations and actions. So snuggle up to your Financial or Commercial team to see what their challenges are, how the business makes its money and what language they use. Share a virtual cup of coffee with a Programme Manager to see how best to get the customers’ perspectives into decision-making. Spend time with the analysts to understand how they turn data into insight so you’re better positioned to challenge their thinking and pre-empt questions you may get from the Board.
In a similar vein to the personal development, get in touch with the leaders of your organisation, colleagues in other functions or third-party partners you’ve always meant to engage with but always had an excuse not to.
Understand their role and challenges. Help them understand the value of having a focus on Customer Experience. Invite them to be part of your workshops and updates and welcome them into gang of internal CX champions. Nurturing those relationships now will pay dividends in the weeks and months to come when initiating the connections may be harder to do.
If you’ve not done any journey mapping before it’s an insightful eye-opener and story-finder. It can still be done remotely. It may lack the immersive nature of onsite workshops and ethnographic studies but the output will be better than doing nothing. It’s a great way for people across the business and partners to come together and learn more about their own organisation. Make sure that once you’ve looked at things from a customer persona’s perspective, you have the clarity of direction and governance to prioritise what should be done next.
If you’ve already carried out journey mapping, now is maybe the time to look at those micro-journeys or other personas. For example, an airport might look at what it’s like for a family to arrive at 3am in the pouring rain, what happens when bags are lost or flights are diverted. A housing association or local council might review the journey of someone who’s reported a faulty door lock. Or a SaaS company may map the journey of its own Customer Success managers.
CX Maturity Assessment
This takes a real step back from the day-to-day business to contemplate your customer centricity. Seek views from colleagues on whether they know what the CX vision is and whether they’re clear about the role they can play. If there’s not a CX vision then prepare one as part of the CX Strategy – how good do you want to be and how committed are you? What does that look like on a day-to-day basis? What will you always do and never do?
Is the brand promise to “put customers at the heart of everything we do” just convenient rhetoric we have no intention of, or ability to, deliver on?
It’s also worth reviewing your internal governance, the beating heart of your CX programme. Were the right people involved and did it have a strong mandate? Was it working effectively and cross-functionally in prioritising and assigning actions? Was it good at finding practical ways of sharing stories throughout the organisation and bringing it all to life internally? What leaderships behaviours were present or absent in supporting the customer-led goals?
There’s clearly a crisis to get through first and it may seem a little odd to plan for a new normal when we’ve no idea quite what that will look like.
Nonetheless, history teaches us that we will recover and will be back up and running at some point. When that time comes, we don’t want to sit there looking at our competitors with envy and wishing we’d thought of that, wishing we’d made better use of our time. What can we do in future that is right for us and our customers? How can we change things and innovate in a way that means our competitors will be looking to us with envy?
The commercial reality is that the companies who stand the best chance of survival are not just the ones who are financially, strategically and operationally well-managed. They also have loyal customers and emotionally-engaging relationships. They empathise with how they fit into their customers’ lives and give customers no reason to go anywhere else.
There’s nothing to say something like the virus won’t hit again and there is no shortage of evidence to show the positive commercial impact of better customer experiences. So when the dust settles, organisations will look to have absolute clarity of direction and to strengthen the customer experience as a way protect themselves against any future such events. The Zappos mindset – “We’re in the people business, we just happen to sell shoes” is one that many more organisations will need to replicate in times to come.
It is not an exhaustive list but I hope it helps is some small way. Please add your thoughts about what else are you doing or plan to do between now and when things return to some kind of normality.
But as I said at the start, I’m very aware that many friends and colleagues are losing their jobs or changes at work mean much of this may be academic. My thoughts go out to you. We will get through it. I know that when we have to dig deep it’s surprising how deep we can go. In the coming days and weeks there will be opportunities to regroup, reset and reboot.
The global community of CX professionals is fantastic at sharing and caring and it’s great to know they are out there. In that spirit, if I can be a sounding board for any questions around customer experience do let me know – message me on LinkedIn or email [email protected]