Giving CE a Seat at the Table
Companies have empty pockets when it comes to fixing what's broken.
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"We have just improved the customer experience by ninety percent," a customer experience professional recently told me.

"How did you manage such a remarkable achievement?" I asked.

"We fixed our invoicing system. Now only ten percent of our invoices are inaccurate," he declared.

"Can you show me one customer who will pay you a dime more for the privilege of receiving accurate invoices?" I asked. Everyone knows the answer to that is "No." Many of the customer experience efforts taking place in organizations are similar in nature. They focus on complaint reduction. They address customer dissatisfiers. Although important, these are barely table stakes in the customer experience game.

Two years ago, a client told us, "We need to transform our organization of ninety thousand employees, and we have thirty thousand dollars a year with which to do it." It was a sad example that illustrates the position of many customer experience professionals. If customer experience is so critical, why aren't they obtaining better resources and funding?

Do you see the connection between these two examples? When customer experience is about removing dissatisfiers, CEOs do not commit major funds. The thinking goes that when fixing an internal broken process, the organization should self-fund it. In fact, the CEO may argue, they should have never had broken processes to begin with.

Many customer experience initiatives are centered on voice-of-the-customer (VOC) programs. By definition, these programs are designed to identify customer dissatisfaction. VOC is a method to assess and measure the current strategy execution. It is not designed to innovate, differentiate, or launch product lines. As such, the executive expectation is that the organization will self-correct through self-funding. At best, the outcome of such solutions is predictability, not breakthrough. This is a tactical customer experience program of tweaking the existing customer relationship.

To obtain a seat at the executive table, customer experience professionals need to move from tactical to strategic. It is time to claim a greater, strategic stake in the company's future. Innovation, new revenue streams, and new customer engagement is where organizations invest. The question for all customer experience professionals is quite simple: Are you up to the challenge?

Most customer experience professionals I've met with are not happy with the traction their VOC program has in their organization. They admit that progress is incremental at best, if they even manage to attract the right executive attention. So where are they stuck?

Most have never tried to play the strategic customer experience game. When asked why, the answers range from "We were never invited" to "I don't know how" to "I can't commit to the numbers." Well, this is the moment of truth. Are you ready to be part of the future? Or are you succumbing to being part of the present, which is quickly becoming the past?

CEOs invest in the future. A voice-of-the-customer program, as far as they are concerned, is a matter of customer maintenance, not a growth strategy for the future. Customer experience can and should be a future growth driver.

A combination of factors—professional fear, self-serving agendas, and gurus who have never implemented anything—have kept the customer experience in a boring, tactical maintenance rut. It's time for that to end. Are we ready to submit a strategic plan with a financial commitment to revolutionize and grow the company? Or should we stick with the same tired plan: 1. Launch relationship studies; 2. Conduct executive presentation of results; 3. Develop few changes at the call center; and 4. Repeat.

There must be a better option. It is time for us to commit to elevating the industry by finding it.

Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience transformation firm. His most recent book is Exceptionalize It! (4i, 2012). He can be reached at lior@strativity.com. Follow him on Twitter @LiorStrativity.

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