Author Steven R. Covey, in his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , broke down what high achievers do consistently to maintain their effectiveness.
The list includes simple yet timeless ideas, like:
- Think Win-Win — Collaborate more effectively by building high-trust relationships.
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood — Influence others by developing a deep understanding of their needs and perspectives.
- Put First Things First — Prioritize and achieve your most important goals instead of constantly reacting to urgencies.
The number one item on this list of seven, may be my favorite: Be Proactive — Focus and act on what you can control and influence instead of what you can’t.
Can this principle apply to customer experience? Not only do I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes,” I’ll go so far as to say it’s imperative to customer experience success.
But here’s the reality: many customer experience programs are set up as reactive, ill-defined, tactics that are not connected to a larger strategy. This type of reactive approach may allow for a short-term win, but it will never lead to consistent, positive outcomes.
That’s why CX leaders must do everything they can to be proactive about their customer experience strategy.
And if not? Reactivity ruins customer experience. Here are just a few challenges I’ve seen.
Three Reactive Realities for CX Programs — and Proactive Paths to Pursue
Reactive Reality #1. Customer experience is seen as the act of collecting customer feedback and reporting it internally.
Many teams and leaders have “customer experience” as part of their title or department name, but actually have no authority, visibility, or accountability around anything the customer experiences, with the exception of the surveys.
If this is part of a bigger strategy, great. It’s important to understand the customer feedback strategy as part of the larger customer experience.
But if teams are collecting insights, sharing them with certain teams and leaders, and then immediately moving on to the next survey, that’s not truly a strategy.
Collecting customer feedback is a piece of the puzzle. But it’s never going to look like the picture on the front of the box.
Take the Proactive Path:
Whenever another survey, a new metric, or even an ongoing feedback program is rolling along, customer experience leaders need to ask one critical question: WHY?
And that question, of course, leads to others.
- Why do we need these insights? If it’s simply to understand customers better, that’s great, but what will we do with the information we find?
- What is the goal of responding to these insights? If it’s to create a “better” customer experience, what does that mean? Are there clear outcomes, goals, and understanding of what the ideal customer experience is?
Collecting feedback and not creating real, long-term change in the organization means disappointment for both customers and leaders.
Customers don’t feel heard and typically aren’t experiencing a consistent customer journey. And leaders are disappointed when those CX metrics aren’t really changing or pointing to real progress.
This leads to another common Reactive Reality.
Reactive Reality #2. Customer experience goals are loose and ill-defined.
Leaders might toss out terms like “delivering exceptional customer experiences” or “achieving best-in-class customer service.” These terms sound nice but don’t really provide a universal understanding of what’s most important in the customer experience for one specific organization.
There are often assumptions about what great customer experience means.
Leaders might think it’s clear as day, but it’s easy for teams to believe CX is what happens when a customer contacts Customer Care, for example, or when customers need to return a product. They are often not seeing the customer journey as an end-to-end experience because they are focused on their siloed operations.
A clear vision and defined success outcomes allow everyone to speak the same language and know exactly what’s a “good score” for customer experience efforts.
This is probably where I see the most amount of angst within organizations. Teams crave real direction and are told again and again to just “do customer experience better.” It’s a real source of pain for customer insights teams, customer care organizations, and leaders throughout an organization who have the desire to drive more customer-centric decisions but are given no tools, resources, or support to do so.
Sales, marketing, operations, distribution…they all have a clear idea of what success means at their organization. CX is often treated like a *wink, wink* “you know what to do” approach. This leads to confusion, frustration, and a lack of serious business outcomes.
CX leaders must stand up and ask for more clarity, or create it themselves and communicate up and out throughout the organization if that’s what it takes.
Without a universal, clear vision of the ideal customer experience, again both customers and leaders are disappointed.
- Customers experience inconsistency and unpredictability in which they might see one part of their journey working well, but experience a completely different attitude or solution in another part of their experience.
- Leaders are often left reporting on vague outcomes like “delivering friendly service” which puts them in positions they simply can’t win.
- And the C-Suite starts wondering what all these CX investments are really for since they’re not seeing an overall connection between customer experience and business results.
Take the Proactive Path:
To do this well, top leaders must engage in defining a few fundamental pieces, including the mission and strategy specifically articulated around customer experience:
- Who do we promise to be for our customers?
- How do we deliver that across our teams?
- And what do these efforts lead to for our organization?
If your top leaders aren’t treating CX as a strategy, then lead where you can. It’s ok to define your version of success, based on your brand promise and overall organizational goals.
We recommend two tools:
- A CX Mission Statement , a guide for who you are to customers, based on what promises have been made and what’s most important to the customer journey.
- A CX Success Statement. , a way to define how CX efforts are connected to the overall organizational goals, and how to measure success.
These two tools allow leaders to articulate what success is within the customer experience itself AND communicate how when customer experience is done well, everyone in the organization achieves more.
Better yet, this vision and universal language allow team members to understand their role in the customer experience. These can be used to hire the right people, evaluate performance, and celebrate those “Mission Moments” when employees deliver. The entire culture benefits.
In some cases, the lack of an overall customer experience strategy leads to reactive decisions around efforts. That leads us to our third CX Reactive Reality.
Reactive Reality #3. Customer experience projects lead to short-term outcomes.
Customer experience is so ill-defined in general that it’s easy to think the tools in the CX toolkit are enough to say “we’re doing CX.”
It’s easy to commit to projects like a customer journey map or a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program and decide that’s enough to deliver better customer experiences. There will be some short-term outcomes and even some big wins from programs like that.
But they will stagnate, plateau, or become neglected when they aren’t part of a consistent way of doing business.
That’s why Customer Experience Management is so critical.
What is CX Management (CXM)? We define it as three things:
- A mindset
- A strategy
- A business discipline
Let’s look at an example.
One new client took me on a tour of their headquarters and proudly showed off the new dashboards displaying their Net Promoter Score (NPS) and other customer feedback metrics. The graphs and colorful pie charts looked impressive.
I asked what they were asking everyone in the organization to do with that information. He was honestly stumped.
It had never occurred to him that they needed to do more, because the launch of the dashboards was considered the big success of the last year.
Customer experience cannot be addressed in an organization by one leader, one team, or one tool. It’s a strategy that requires a cultural commitment and ongoing business discipline. It deserves that attention and cross-functional commitment because that’s what delivers real results.
Take the Proactive Path:
It’s not enough to achieve a short-term win. Those wins add up, but only if there is ongoing and centralized discipline and action.
The defined mission and strategy helps a cross-functional team get clear on how to prioritize efforts, resources, investments in tools and technology, and more. That cross-functional team works on behalf of the customer and the organizational goals.
To do this well, we recommend a CX Charter, which is a document providing roles, responsibilities, accountabilities, and actions in a centralized place.
Governance of priorities and efforts will lead to better outcomes and overall management of the CX strategy.
What Reactive Realities is Your Organization Facing?
While I’ve focused on three realities I see very often, this list could go on and on.
Customer experience is often stuck in a reactive space, where:
- Leaders react to whatever customer issue is getting attention.
- Teams react to whatever internal metric they are required to report.
- Customers react to the lack of consistency throughout their journey.
All this can lead to the worst reaction of all: Eventually, the C-Suite starts asking questions about if these efforts are really worth it. If they don’t have the big picture, they only see the short-term lack of success, which they of course have defined only in their heads.
I challenge you and your teams to get honest about the areas where you’re living in a Reactive Reality — and then identify those opportunities to proactively address it.
Proactive customer experience can lead to so much more than these short-term wins and losses. It leads to happier employees, customers, and leaders. It’s time to step up and get proactive.