Do Your People "Get" Your Customer Experience Strategy?

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What do you think would happen if during an offsite meeting, 6 members of your 10-people strong management team came up with the most brilliant brand and customer strategy on the planet. In fact it was so brilliant, that it would give Apple, Google and Amazon a run for their money. It would go down in history as the best strategy every written.

But then they decided to keep this strategy a secret, only to be shared by the worthy ones. They’d only tell 1 in 4 employees. 1 in 2 managers and none of the other four executive team members who didn’t participate in the off-site.

Ludicrous? Well, according to the Gallup survey The State of the American Workplace, this is exactly what happens. When asked to answer the question “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from the competitors”, 40% of executives, 54% of managers and a 63% of employees couldn’t respond with full confidence that they did.

In which we should consider that thinking that you know is actually still different from knowing. Taking that criteria, Kaplan and Norton – the guys from the Balanced Scorecard – found that up 9 out of 10 of employees don’t really understand the company strategy. In an HBR article, it also became apparent that the majority of managers were unable to articulate the strategy as well.

The disconnect lies in what I like to call knowledge projection. Once us humans know something, we have a very hard time imagining how it is not to know. Combine this with the fact that not all of us are equally gifted communicators, and you get a recipe for Chinese whispers. With the best of intentions, everyone thinks they are doing the right thing, but the definition of the thing and the measure of right, may be all over the place. Along the way strategies disintegrate and your customers experience anything but what you intended.

So how do you avoid this happening to your preciously crafted customer experience strategy?

For me, the answer lies in making sure that your message, your choice of audience and the media you deploy truly support he distribution of your strategy in every way.

  1. Message: Don’t settle for shiny but shallow customer journey maps

When it comes to developing a true experience strategy, most businesses start by crafting a customer journey map. If properly done, this is a great place to start, as it allows the creation of a common picture around which all parts of the business can organise themselves. What’s more, if done by a colourful artist, they also look great on the wall behind your desk.

But unfortunately many of the maps I’ve seen stop short of being really useful beyond the people who helped create them. They describe steps and journeys from a customer perspective, but forget to translate them into experience standards which the people in the organisation can actually work with.

Whether you call this activity operationalising CX or see it as part of your service design process is up to you. As long as you make sure that every step of the customer journey has been translated into clear processes, KPI’s and behavioural guidelines which tell every last employee at every touchpoint exactly what they need to do to make the desired experience happen.

Without this, they will need to make it up, and even with the best of intentions their interpretations may vary wildly.

  1. Audience: Make sure you include everyone

Once the customer experience plan is hatched and properly detailed, people need to be informed about it. Here, companies typically invest in the sales, service and marketing departments as they are most in touch with the customer. But in many businesses I have encountered, the non-customer-facing employees only get a cursory update. If they are informed at all.

This is a grave mistake. Any customer experience transformation which isn’t carried by all supporting departments is doomed. After all, who writes the software service which agents use to resolve customer issues? Who compiles the contracts that the commercial teams put in front of prospective clients. Who challenges the financing or vendor selection for the marketing department’s campaigns?

There is only way to make sure that the intended front line experience actually comes to life. This is to make sure that is the back line, the people in your company who never encounter a customer, fully understand what you are trying to achieve and how they fit into this picture.

Failure to do this will once again mean that they need to improvise and eventually frustrate your front line staff by not getting it. The fact that they may have never been told, may never enter that evaluation.

  1. Media: Think beyond posters & powerpoint

Communicating a customer strategy is not a one-off event. It’s not about giving people a PowerPoint supported presentation of which they are proven to forget 80% within 24 hours. It’s not about hanging We love our customers posters everywhere in the building. It’s not about making smiley mugs (even though I like mugs :-).

Customer strategy communication is a sustained activity which needs to manifest itself across all media in your business, every day of the year. Your meeting agendas, your reporting systems, your dashboards, your newsletters, your company presentations and yes, your mugs. Every day should be customer day, and every activity should remind your employees of the customer goals your business is trying to achieve (and how they fit in this picture).

In this context, I always suggest to pay special attention to two – often under leveraged -communication tools: leadership behaviour and storytelling (about people getting it right). It’s the lowest budget activity of them all and what’s important: it works. Evolution has taught us to judge people by their actions, not their words. Seeing these actions for ourselves (behaviour) or hearing about them (stories) is still the best way to make us move. 

Doing all the above will not guarantee that your customer strategy will bring you riches. But it will make sure that your people actually understand the customer strategy you propose. Especially if you regularly measure whether the message actually arrives and adapt your approach as needed.

So please make sure you get that first step right.

This article was originally published  in our blog in March 2015.