For anyone in the early days of their CX career, securing buy-in for Customer Experience from sceptical stakeholders can be daunting.
It needn’t be. Yes, there are always those who don’t get it or don’t want to get it. It’s a fact of life for a CX professional that not everyone will be as passionate as we are about it.
People change roles, they leave, they join, they have their own priorities, their own metrics by which their performance is judged and they’re not going to lend an ear or time willingly without good reason.
It’s made harder without any air cover support from the CEO and Exec team. Compelling data, forensic insight and irrefutable evidence are always going to help tell the right story but that’s easier said than done especially in the early days of a CX movement.
I often say that if you do nothing else in the name of Customer Experience, carry out a piece of journey mapping work and see where it takes you. It will stimulate conversations you’d otherwise not have, it opens colleagues’ eyes to the reality of what being a customer is like and it brings them together in improving things.
But even before we get to journey mapping, we need those stakeholders to give us access to their information and people. We need them onside.
At this point we could go into the depths of psychological profiling and take a professional qualification in stakeholder management. It’s true that we need to recognise the personalities involved and flex our own style to suit but a little empathy goes a long way. It’s a key ingredient as far as our customers are concerned and it’s no different for colleagues internally and partners.
Short of a three-line whip from the CEO telling them to join your gang, here are just four quick examples of how we might go about winning them over. There will be some effort needed but it will get the momentum going and the rewards will be bountiful.
Get them to tell their own stories
Create a connection between what you’re doing and something they can relate to. Ask about the best and worst experiences they’ve had in their own lives. Explore what happened and what their response was.
Not surprisingly they’ll say they’re very likely to go buy again from a company who was on their side and helped them succeed. Conversely, where they had a bad experience they’ll acknowledge they won’t go back and they’ll tell others too.
And where it’s just ‘ok’, they’ll recognise that it wouldn’t take much to investigate what a competitor had to offer.
Each of those responses comes with a commercial impact one way or the other. They’ve just made your argument for you.
Broaden the conversation out and ask if anything like the good or bad experiences – and the ensuing consequences – could happen on our shift.
Asking about their emotions will dig even deeper. They may have denied emotions have anything to do with it but they’re a key driver of behaviours. It’s no coincidence that “How do you feel?” is a favourite go-to question of a journalist or TV presenter.
I recall a B2B Head of Customer Experience becoming frustrated at her Board’s refusal to see why investment in a new contact centre system was necessary. She walked into the next meeting and told the story of a stressed cafe owner customer who was calling in for help between having customers of their own. She started to play the on-hold music with the “Your call is important to us, thank you for waiting” recorded message and left the room.
After a very awkward and long 9 minutes and 25 seconds, the average time taken to answer as she pointed out when she returned, the penny had dropped. Stories and empathy meant she secured her investment.
Spend time getting to know them
In the world of internal politics there’s a saying about “Stay close to your enemies”.
We all like to feel we’re heard and acknowledged, so find an excuse to have a chat with them. Listen to the language they use, their challenges and their priorities. Understand their views on how the business makes its money, where its costs are and what the strategic issues are.
What impact do they have directly or indirectly on customers and revenue streams? How close are they to the key movers and shakers in the company and how political are they? Which competitors and organisations outside the sector do they admire?
The more familiar you are with their world the more relevant you can make your positioning. If we know their objections, however irrational, we can work out ways to dismantle the blockers or reframe their arguments.
Show how a focus on customers internally and externally can help them achieve their goals and still be aligned to the overall business aims.
It also gives you a real window into how committed the business is, or not, as the case may be. Many companies will have a mantra or a poster to say they put “customers first”. It won’t take many conversations to see how committed everyone is really and therefore how big a task you are about to undertake.
And, if everyone is rewarded and recognised for the ‘wrong’ things you have plenty of collateral now to explain to the Exec team what is going to be needed to make the vision a reality.
Talk to other peers and colleagues as well as senior stakeholders
Admittedly, it’s harder at the moment to have those informal chats around the office, at the drinks machine or onsite to kick around a few issues and ideas. Our online world makes it tricky to bump into people we don’t (but should) know and strike up a conversation.
However, we do still meet and for some it’s more regular than in pre-pandemic times. With an appropriate audience, when the original business of the meeting is done, there’s no harm in asking for a few minutes at the end to ask for their candid feedback about things.
What would they improve? What are customers saying to them? What information, tools or resources do they need? Is it clear what the company wants its customers to say about it and so on. Most online chat functions allow the comments to be collected anonymously too if that helps generate the most telling insight.
However it’s done, talking to colleagues freely and openly is hugely beneficial in understanding what works, what doesn’t and why. Overlay that with customer feedback in any existing survey or from unstructured comments in social media and your influence with senior stakeholders and your case for where the focus should lie just gets stronger.
Make the business case, even informally
Be pragmatic and focus on the basics before the “Wow”. If stakeholders think you just want to spend money on spreading magic fairy dust around the place, click your heels three times and hope for a miracle they’re going to be tough nuts to crack.
If the data doesn’t yet exist to link better experiences with better business, borrow it in principle at least. There is also no shortage of “ROI of customer experience” data freely available on the internet. And there are plenty of case studies too.
For example, the delivery company who reduced costs by realising it had over-engineered its parcel tracking capability for customers. It was able to cut the number of tracking points without any detrimental impact on customers. Or, the online printer who enjoys wider margins than most. Their customers are happy to pay a premium because the company will fix mistakes on the spot and at their cost, even if it’s the customer’s own mistake.
Better still, try a small change yourself and measure the difference in costs, in employee pride and customer response. Proof of concept is a compelling convincer.
When starting out, it quickly becomes apparent how much of a Customer Experience programme is cultural; a mindset that acknowledges and believes we need our customers more than they need us.
Winning round colleagues isn’t always easy and as time goes by the methods can become more sophisticated. But, for those charged with being the catalyst for a more customer-centric business, engaging stakeholders, especially the sceptical ones bit by bit, will secure their interest, involvement and support.
Jerry Angrave is Customer Experience Director at Empathyce, a CX consulting and coaching company. Jerry is a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and author of The Journey Mapping Playbook published by De Gruyter in October 2020.
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