Customer Experience for the Future: Collaboration Earns Trust

Collaboration

Reality is that the customer experience journey or lifecycle is horizontal, fluid, and continuous across a company’s various departments and processes. Are we in touch with reality?  Most companies relinquish customer experience management to the customer-facing functions.  Yet this, too, is precarious, as customer-facing personnel and touch-points are limited in effectiveness by the information, processes, policies, and people that feed into the customer interaction.

Lesson for the Future:  In the future, companies that manage customer experience in accordance with reality will be the winners, not only in standing out from the crowd, and the corresponding revenue growth, but also in profitability.  Why? Because being out of touch with reality means wasted opportunities, time, confidence, morale, and costs. On the flip side, being in touch with reality avoids these drags on profitability.

Unlike a very small mom-and-pop business that single-handedly caters to the customer experience journey exactly as a customer experiences it, businesses are typically comprised of numerous specialized functions in the name of industrial efficiency. In school we learn a lot about our specialty of choice, and only a little about the others. And in our careers we may find ourselves seldom rubbing shoulders with people in other business areas. We come to believe that our functional area exists simply because of its inherent importance.

Lesson for the Future:  The idea that every job exists thanks to customers is not always obvious. The idea that we don’t really have customers, but rather that we continually earn customer trust is also a rare, yet humbling, realization. And the idea that we are jointly responsible with another functional area for customers to continue selecting our brand over others is typically an awkward or unwelcome notion. Yet these are truths. They’re reality, and the laws of nature favor truth and reality.

Customer experience journey maps have been instrumental in showing work groups the need for collaboration. Studying the customer life cycle from the customer’s viewpoint is eye-opening, especially when the research covers the end-to-end journey / cycle. And particularly when it focuses on customers’ expectations and the consequences of missing them.  Abandon preconceived notions of personas, use cases, segments, and touchpoint boundaries – and instead, seek natural groupings among journey data. You’ll find that your research opens up even more insights about the need to be collaborative internally — and also with upstream suppliers, downstream channels, and alliance partners. In fact, new ways to simplify all those silos can surface, allowing you to innovate, market, sell, service, and collaborate in diverse ways more simply and effectively.

Lesson for the Future:  Inspire collaboration by helping your whole company see their work as it is viewed by customers, in a flowing journey. The iterative cycle of customer decision-making — to repurchase from you, or take their business elsewhere – is a humbling factor. And humility is one of the prerequisites for collaboration. This is where the importance of trust is appreciated. Repurchase requires trust. When trust has been eroded, the iterative cycle is broken. And that means money is lost.

Give people reasons and opportunities to collaborate. This is often a matter of the way things are structured: Recognizing individuals vs. teams? Rewarding resolution vs. prevention? Internal-oriented or customer-oriented criteria for promotions? Survey-based or behavior-based performance evaluation? That’s just a start. Pay close attention to the way you assign work and tackle challenges for the next two days, and you’ll begin to realize just how pervasive silo-ized mentality is in the way we approach things. To have the right to complain about silos, make conscientious decisions for the following two days to bridge silos in every decision you make. That’s a step in the right direction toward making collaboration the way of the future.

Lesson for the Future:  Coordinate the various managers of anything related to customer experience management: create opportunities for them to share their approaches, data, contacts, lessons learned. How can we expect smooth customer experiences when the diverse   set of roles involved never talk? Then go well beyond to all functional areas: restructure to invite collaboration. Design data management, governance, systems, processes, and policies in ways that bridge silos from the get-go. Silos are exhausting for customers and employees alike, causing distrust, low morale, and churn. After restructuring – which is essential to prevent cynicism from lipstick on a pig — add gamification to stimulate transformation from old habits to a new way of life.

What erodes trust? Incongruence with expectations. Mis-matches take a toll on relationship strength. The cost is high. Incongruence affects both employees and customers. And nearly every issue that creates surprises or hassles cannot be resolved without cross-functional collaboration. Perpetual existence of these issues, especially after dissatisfaction has been expressed, causes people to feel they are not heard and valued. This insecurity creates a web of complications with escalating costs.

Lesson for the Future:  To get in-sync with expectations, ask customers how well their goals were supported, and allow them to comment about what was most helpful and what was most hindering. That way the feedback is about the customer. (It’s ironic that in “voice-of-the-customer” research we ask about ourselves in the quest to find out about our customers’ expectations.)

From there, the onion can be peeled back in internal cross-functional – and this means no function is excused — workshops where the relevant teams ask why 5 times about the top themes that surface in the comments.  Actions and standards can be set to address the 5th why, which is the root cause of what customers named as their top interests/concerns.  Pick something that can be tracked relating to that standard or action, and make that the key metric for monitoring and rewarding performance.

A combination of the survey question, comments, and action plan metric are the best way to motivate improvement and great performance. The highest weighting should be placed on the action plan metric, with lesser weight on the downward trend of negative themes in the comments, and even lesser weight on the survey rating. This empowers work teams to proactively deliver great experiences, which play out naturally in comments and ratings and financials. We used this method when I managed customer experience for many years at semiconductor equipment-maker Applied Materials. It’s time for the past to inform the future. This method creates teamwork, unity, congruence, and real transformation that customers notice and reward.

Collaboration is a shift from finger-pointing and the not-invented-here syndrome. It is an indication of internal trust, which is a precursor of external trust. As transparency grows in the future, owning up to reality will spell the difference between the laggards and the leaders.  The reality is that customers do not do business with you in silos. Your ability to bridge silos through sincere, strategic collaboration will paint your success rate in the future.

This article is the fifth in a six-part series of articles about Customer Experience for the Future.

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