Everyone seems agreed that, like the complaints department, in theory the real aim of an in-house customer experience team should be to do itself out of a role.
I say that because if every decision made by an organisation strikes the right balance between what its customers value and what drives the corporate value, then there is no need for anyone to champion its cause. It’ll just happen. It’ll just be the way things are done.
Until then however, those leading and managing the customer agenda need the skills and credibility to get people talking to each other, to demonstrate unequivocal proof that customer experience doesn’t leave money on the table and to be accountable for ensuring that the right things are being done in the right order. Not only does that have to happen across the width of a multi-functional structure but from the very top down.
Recent corporate evolution has seen Boards grow more upright as they respond to what’s going on around them and the discovery of how interdependent the executive team is. The finance chief, risk head and company secretary have pretty much always been at the top table; HR took its place when team-building and balanced scorecards came of age along with the decentralisation of its core services; to keep up with Sales, the Operations and Marketing divisions then were invited in. And more recently, general counsel – traditionally the gatekeepers at the end of the corridor – are being brought much closer in to the running of the business.
As a result, for a customer experience leader there is intense competition around the Board table for attention, time and resources. But it is essential for that person to be able to go toe-to-toe with everyone in the senior team; not because they want to win their argument and look important but because they will genuinely have customer insights that will make the decision-making process more effective. Of course, there will be personal agendas all around the table as individuals try to be seen exerting their influence on cash-flow. However, predicting the commercial impact of customer behaviour based on what the corporate strategy needs can align and prioritise decisions as well as take out costs that are duplicated or that are not valued. Absent that guidance and customer strategy, the risks and unintended consequences quickly turn into unnecessary but costly issues.
Having a voice that is heard and listened to is a great start and a large number of companies are heading down that path. Going a step further is having a vote, helping to ensure that things are done for the right reasons and that at the very least, the real-world customer impact has been given due consideration.
But better still, is for those in charge of ‘customer experience’, whatever the size of team, to have the right of veto on decisions that affect customers directly or indirectly – for the organisation’s own long-term good. There are few people who work right across every function and who also have the opportunity to be the one who gets them all in the same place. Even fewer know what it’s really like to be one of their own customers and how that affects what they do next time. That knowledge needs to be used to its full competitive advantage.
Having a unilateral right of veto might seem a bit extreme but if we are all agreed that in an ideal world a customer experience team would not be needed, that is effectively what the organisation would evolve to do, naturally and instinctively.