Part 2: Organizational Fortitude

by | Nov 10, 2015

Most people agree that having, and providing, a great customer experience makes sense. Ceatro Group rarely encounters an executive that doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with the notion that great customer experience improves revenue, loyalty, and satisfaction across the board. But there are lots of things that you can agree to, choosing to put in the effort necessary to execute it is another story.

When we talk about customer experience we often talk about the sexy part: what should the customer experience be? (see part 3) We talk about that because it is the fun part and everything thing else is actually really hard.

There are two ways to come at customer experience: from the bottom up and the top down.  

The bottom up means going into a piece of an experience and improving it. For example, improving the call center experience for a certain customer segment, redesigning the experience of a specific product feature, improving billing, and so on. This effort is usually sponsored by the person that is responsible for that piece of the experience. Over time, as peers of that original sponsor see the benefits of the work, customer experience efforts may be brought to other parts of the organization and to the customers’ experience. It is rare that the bottoms up approach changes the organization’s orientation or all the experiences the organization offers but it may, over time.

Since our definition of customer experience is the Whole Offering, including products, services, processes, operational strategy, and the perception the customer has of the experience it really has to happen from the top town. A strong executive has to decide that he or she believes in customer experience as an orientation or a philosophy. If an organization is not already oriented towards delivering an holistic customer experience the executive sponsor will need to move the entire ship in that direction.  There may be a pilot effort that looks similar to a bottoms up approach or, more likely, this executive will apply it to a large influential product and all of its pieces (services, processes, etc.) as means to start integrating customer experience efforts into the organization.

Ok, so that is how it should go but it rarely goes that way. 

The resistance inside organizations to implementing customer experience as practice is high. Here is why, in a nutshell:

  1. It sounds too mushy
  2. It threatens existing organizational structures and power structures
  3. It is laborious

1. It sounds mushy

It does, right? We have been telling colleagues for years that going into ‘customer experience’ is a bit of a career-killer because it sounds too warm and fuzzy.
“I do Mergers and Acquisitions”  – ooh, impressive!
“I coordinate an international supply chain” – ooh, complicated!
“I do customer experience” – huh.

It isn’t actually mushy or warm and fuzzy but that image is going to take sometime to shift. At the very least,  we need more ROI arguments and more successful business cases to be circulated.

Right now, executives have trouble selling the investment to colleagues because of the misunderstanding of what it actually is and what revenue and cost savings you get from fixing the customer experience and implementing a solid practice. Budgets are lean and trade offs have to be made. When executives are batting around “a new supply chain system” or “let’s launch a new product” versus “implement a customer experience practice” or “fix the customer experience of product X” the more familiar and concrete things (supply chains and product launches) usually win (unless product X is really failing).

The customer experience industry has a way to go to help executives make the argument for customer experience efforts stronger and more compelling. In the meantime, Ceatro Group often works with the sponsoring executive to rename the project, make the links to product, service, and operations much more clear, and show the potential ROI of customer experience changes. For example, we worked with a European manufacturer once that needed to improve the experience its business clients were having during the requirements gathering process in order to ensure more accurate requirements and specs. They named their own project “Customer Intimacy” and then giggled every time we said it. Finally we renamed the project “Customer Integration” and the organization got on board with its importance.

2. It threatens existing organizational structures and power structures

Most organizations are designed around the product engine and everything (and everyone) else wraps around it. The product engine might be service providers like consultants, intellectual property providers like researchers or marketers, technical providers like software or hardware engineers, or packaged good providers like food scientists or hair brush innovators. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they do – most organizations have theses special teams that make the magic happen and then all the supporting operations.

Internally, companies have products, services, processes, and so on. Externally customers just see “everything you offer me” as that product. We call it the Whole Offering to distinguish it from the product component. (See these slides for more on that.) And changing that structure is monumental. In order to move the entire ship towards a customer experience orientation, the executive champion has to suggested that the Whole Offering is what matters now. That is a political minefield.

“So, Tom, head of product, what we are now saying is that yesterday you were head of the most important group we had because without your team we couldn’t make money … now we are saying that your team is just part of the overall experience that brings in the money.”  

That doesn’t often settle in well.

It becomes especially sticky if an organization got ahead of itself and renamed its digital team or its call center team “The Customer Experience Team.”  Each of those teams has an known and easily understandable function that isn’t the holistic customer experience. It is part of it, just as the product is, but it isn’t the customer experience. Politically untangling that is challenging.

We have helped a number of organizations figure out where and how to put in a customer experience practices organizationally, politically, and operationally. There is no one way to do it and every organization is different but, if we could have everything we dream of, we would recommend implementing a customer experience overlay across the entire organization, run by the CEO or COO, for a few years to embed the skills and perspective necessary across the existing organizational structure. We believe, in the end, that customer experience is a key part everyone’s job and shouldn’t be a separate department. This also helps to damp down the political strife.

3. It is laborious

We would love to tell you that customer experience is as easy as it sounds mushy but in fact it is pretty darn hard to do. It is really just like creating, developing, launching, and managing a product but on high and with all the human understanding components most of us have been avoiding. It takes a lot of thinking, planning, executing, and managing of moving pieces that cut across departments, suppliers, channels, and so on. We will look at it in detail over the coming days but, be forewarned, it makes you want to say this when you hear all that is involved: “Come on! No way!”

At Ceatro Group we encourage our clients to strive for the big gains in customer experience and to try to move the whole organization towards a customer experience orientation however we are always excited when organizations make any customer experience efforts work. We have found that the executives that start the effort in the face of a threat or declining business metrics almost always do it from the bottom up. These are shorter duration efforts with more focused results and fewer enterprise level transformations. Conversely, we have found that the executives that take the top down approach to customer experience and begin to spread it throughout their organization do it when they are in a winning position. It is an offensive move for those with longterm vision and an ongoing commitment and it pays off.


6 Part Blog Series: What Does It Take To Actually Make a Great Customer Experience Happen

Originally published on September 23, 2013