Leading and being intentional of customer experience

Editor’s note: Jeannie Walters is the CEO and founder of Experience Investigators. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “5 Ways to Lead Customer Experience – Even If It’s Not In Your Job Description.

Who is responsible for customer experience?

It’s easy to toss around phrases like “Customer experience is everyone’s job!” But saying it’s everyone’s job is permission for it to be nobody’s job. It really is up to everyone in an organization to own and deliver great customer experiences. The dirty little secret is that even if there is no leadership, no investment and no strategy around customer experience in your organization…you are still delivering a customer experience. Yet that experience is:

  • Unintentional.
  • Inconsistent.
  • At best, ordinary.
  • Most likely, below expectations.

Creating a great customer experience

Great customer experiences are built on many things including:

  1. Strategy – A defined outlook for what success is and how to get there.
  2. Culture – Employees who embrace and understand their role in achieving that success.
  3. Accountability – How do we know if we’re succeeding at the first two? And how are we accountable to customers and leaders?

Yet organizations rarely organize themselves around these ideas.

Instead, customer experience is tossed around as an ill-defined concept. Employees are encouraged to be “customer-obsessed” or remember how the customer signs their paycheck. But really, those are just ideas that can be interpreted differently from one well-meaning employee to the next. After a few months, leaders shrug and ask why people talk so much about customer experience when they haven’t seen the results.

Being intentional 

That’s why CX change agents are sometimes the real leaders in the organization. They not only talk about CX, but they also lead by example. They show up, make waves and get results. And that’s when leaders really pay attention. If you’re trying to get others in your organization to get it and are begging for buy-in from those at the top of the org chart, this is for you.

Five ways to lead customer experience

1. Understand the language and use it right. 

One of my personal pet peeves is hearing “customer experience” described as a buzzword or jargon. But I get it. Customer experience is seen as something to add on to the business, not part of the business. Instead, it should be seen as a way to win at business. It’s a winning strategy – if it’s intentional.

Intentionality is missing from many customer experience strategies. For example, how intentional is it to say “we love customers” and provide no resources, goals or even a vision of what that means? That language feels hypocritical when it’s paired with procedures and processes that treat customers like they aren’t to be trusted.

To be a CX change agent, lead with language. Instead of saying “we love customers” as a standalone statement, tie that with tangible goals, measurements and outcomes. You might be thinking, but I don’t lead any department! Start where you can. If your boss asks about customers, ask harder questions about goals. Get specific. Discuss how you want to tie actions to outcomes. Explain how improving this part of the customer experience will improve how they feel, which will help us achieve higher survey results and, more importantly, higher retention. 

2. Be the customer advocate.

As an experiment I once tracked how often the customer was considered in a series of meetings for five days. In five days’ worth of meetings, the customer was explicitly considered only four times. Four times!

These meetings were about everything from internal processes to customer-facing technology. I get it. Everyone is busy and working hard. It’s not a lack of effort.

Advocate for the customer in every meeting you have by asking:

  1. How will this affect the customer?
  2. Will this change/process/tool impact the current customer journey?
  3. What does the customer need to know to be successful?
  4. Will these internal changes impact the customer positively or negatively?
  5. Are there customers we can include in these decisions?

This act alone will enlighten others and create an awareness of the customer.

3. Contact customers.

It’s really this simple. If you are in a role where you don’t have contact with customers, reach out to those who do. If you are in sales, customer success or other customer-facing roles, reach out on your own. Find out what they wish worked differently. Ask about their last interaction. Ask about their experiences with others in your industry. You might have a ton of feedback data available to you, but there’s nothing quite like talking directly to customers.

In most organizations, the higher you climb in the org chart, the further away the customer gets. As a result, many executives have not spoken to a customer in months or even years – some have never done it! Use this opportunity to keep the real voice of the customer with you.

4. Connect the everyday efforts to the external experience.

Inside many organizations there are internal processes and communications that simply aren’t working well. Shipping is waiting on product. Product is waiting on design. Everyone is waiting on supply chain management. And billing is not willing to move forward until everyone plays nice!

It’s easy to forget that internal communications have a direct impact on the customer experience.

CX change agents don’t forget and they connect the dots proactively and intentionally. It’s time to get a little direct. “I really appreciate all you do in supply chain management. I’ve promised the customer I’d get back to them by tomorrow with some information. Even if you don’t have an update, will you let me know that? This customer deserves it.” Help your team work cross-functionally on behalf of the customer.

5. Innovate on behalf of the customer.

You might see things that you know aren’t working. It’s time to get excited about what could work! If you don’t know how to make it better, do a little research. Benchmark how others in and outside of your industry have solved similar issues. Look to customer reviews, product feedback or other accessible communications. 

One CX change agent I worked with did this in a clever way. After identifying a broken part of the experience, she brought it up in a positive way any chance she could. She would bring in new research, examples, customer quotes or public reviews to each meeting with the cross-functional team. They eventually agreed to bring in customers for a working session to design a better experience. The customers were appreciative and other leaders noticed her positive, intentional leadership.

The customers won with an improved experience, this CX change agent won with a promoted role and the organization won with happier, more loyal customers. I know it can be frustrating for CX change agents out there. You may not have the right title or the right resources, but you have the right intentions. Intentional, proactive leaders are who really make changes in this world. It’s time for you to lead.