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In Context: Fostering a better customer experience across the organization

by Grant Johnson, In Context

In the age of the customer, experience is paramount. While nearly every company in business today understands the important of customer experience, many are still struggling with digitally transforming their business to effectively to win, retain and grow customers. I’ve been passionate about customers since I began my career in marketing, and customer experience has been a topic of discussion for several years, so when I read a recent Brian Solis post on customer experience (CX), it resonated and got me thinking about what has changed in how companies approach CX since we entered this decade.

Solis observes that “customer Experience (CX) is a difficult process because so many stakeholders interpret CX differently and then prioritize investments and resources accordingly.” This is consistent with a point I made in a blog more than five years ago. In Who Owns the Customer, I noted that a lack of true customer ownership happens because most companies are organized along functional lines (i.e., sales, marketing, services, IT, support, finance, etc.), and there is no cross-functional ownership approach that enables the organization to holistically manage customer relationships.

What complicates the goal of customer ownership further is that each functional area often has disparate systems and databases that gather and store customer information.  Moreover, these functions do not consolidate info in a meaningful way, or have the proper analytics or data integration technology to leverage key insights from disparate data sources. This fragmented approach also undermines taking advantage of modern digital platforms that gather customer feedback, from websites to social media and online communities.

Achieving a unified view of the customer is a daunting task. While at Forrester, Paul Hagan wrote, “most often, companies shopping for CRM systems are accosted with solutions that promise a 360-degree view of customers…the reality is that the customer experience is far broader than that . . . and so is the ecosystem of technologies required to support them.” For the few companies (whether B2C or B2B) that have been able to bring all relevant customer information together, there is still an organizational and/or structural gap that inhibits customer centricity because in most companies there is no function truly empowered or accountable for the customer.

Companies have chosen various organizational approaches to attempt to solve this operational dysfunction. Some have appointed a Chief Customer Experience Officer or a Chief Customer Officer. These executives typically have either an organizational responsibility or an advisory role. In the former case, the “customer owner” who has staffing and budgetary resources is much better equipped to drive the organizational changes required to effect meaningful change in optimizing the customer experience. Without direct control over people, budgets and systems, the gravitational pull of functional imperatives to – for example – do solely what’s right for sales, IT, finance, marketing, or service, adhering to an “inside-out” company goal directive (vs. an “outside-in” customer-centric approach) inhibits the advisory executive’s impact on customer experience and success.

As Solis states, “each group inadvertently contributes to a disconnected approach to CX because they’re attempting to solve one part of the customer’s journey and experience from their silo. Yet, customers don’t see departments, they see one brand.”  He defines CX this way: “it’s the sum of all engagements a customer has with your brand in every touchpoint, in each moment of truth, throughout the customer lifecycle.” I think he has it exactly right.  When I co-authored the book PowerBranding, I wrote: “every contact matters – in some way, it either enhances or diminishes your brand,” so you need to manage every customer contact, and yet very few companies actually get this concept, let alone establish operational processes to ensure customer experience is optimized everywhere.

What’s a company to do when there is no designated companywide customer owner or centralized customer experience function?  It is still possible to begin the journey toward customer centricity by aligning objectives across several functions, such as sales, marketing, and services. Someone needs to at least own the cross-functional responsibility to ensure that goals and benchmarks are established and regular measurements (such as NPS, renewal rates, satisfaction levels and other continuous tracking) are taken to record progress against the stated objectives. Since marketing owns key elements of the customer experience (e.g., communications, web, social media, customer engagement and loyalty programs) at many companies, it is a likely group to lead the effort to align functional groups and drive initiatives to integrate customer experience management. Customer ownership is a journey that has to start somewhere, and it often starts with one person raising their hand to tackle the inherent structural impediments of functional organizations vs. customer centric ones.

Who’s game to take this on?

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