Being in the customer experience field, among the conspicuous privileges I enjoy are the frequent messages I receive from friends and family telling me "Go after that airline" or "This company should hire you." Everyone has a personal story in which a vendor did wrong by him or her. Oftentimes I know the companies and even the people in charge of their customer experience programs. It is not that those companies don't try. So if they're trying, where do they fail? Why do these stories continue?
Some CX professionals write off these stories as fringe occurrences. They roll their eyes and say, "Something bad will always happen to someone. It is not our norm. It happens." Thank you for the reassurance. But for the customers who have these stories, these are their bad experiences, and what are you going to do about that? These customers, at this moment, don't care about your statistics.
In my opinion, the problem is rooted much deeper in the customer experience programs.
While investments in technology, customer feedback, and experiential marketing programs are skyrocketing, there is one component in the formula for success that is being ignored or underfunded. That component is people. Executives are not allocating enough time to transform their people's thinking. For decades, companies operated as product-centric organizations with processes and procedures to reinforce this mindset and strategic direction. And then the CEO issues a memo that reads "From now on we are all customer-centric" and expects that the organization will align itself naturally. Good luck with that. You can't reverse decades of product centricity with a memo. At best, employees will be cynical and dismiss the memo as the program du jour with the attitude of "This, too, will pass. Just wait for the end of the quarter."
Companies that are sincere about customer centricity and seek a strategic advantage, and not just a tactical move, should address this root cause. Stop focusing on tools like surveys and technology and address the core questions first. Are your people ready to delight? After all, it is people who design Web sites, sell to customers, answer the phone, issue invoices, negotiate legal documents, ensure shipment, and manufacture products. People run your business. Process and technology do not operate without human direction. If your people have—and believe in—the tools and adjust their attitude and become passionate, your business will be on fire. If they do not, don't bother asking customers what they want, because no one in your company will care to address their issues anyway.
The human element is the most critical in every customer experience strategy. It is the most difficult and elusive element of the strategy to change. But it is the only element in the strategy that can exceed—and not just meet—customer expectations. Before you seek to win the hearts of your customers, you must win the hearts of your people. A paycheck is not a method to win their hearts. A paycheck buys you attendance, not enthusiasm and commitment. To earn and retain their hearts, you need a totally different approach.
When you think about a theater production (after all, we are on stage delivering the best performance possible), building the set and selecting the costumes is merely the beginning. You need a script to inspire the audience and passionate actors who will get into the characters. No production will be approved without the script and eventually the actors. No producer will start building the set without knowing what the plot is and who will deliver it. Yet in customer-centric strategies, executives don't look at the complete picture. They marginalize the people element and cling to technology and processes as life savers. Such an approach will at best produce tactical advantages that will meet customer expectations, but not exceed them. It's time to recognize that every organization is the sum total of its people first. This is where your strategic advantage will be created. No brilliant app can substitute for the sincere smile a weary traveler receives as he checks in at a hotel far from home. And that is where customer experience starts.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience transformation firm. His most recent book is Exceptionalize It! (2012). He can be reached at Lior@Strativity.com. Follow him on Twitter @LiorStrativity.