Why Can’t We Just Put Customers First and All Get Along?
The question in the headline might sound naïve, but this is one of the most serious and costly mistakes that companies make. I’ve studied this issue in companies for more than 35 years—14 as an insider (working in one company) and for more than 20 as an industry analyst. I am stunned by the lack of cooperation between enterprise operating departments and managers. It would be one thing if this disharmony were innocuous and didn’t negatively impact customers, employees, and the company’s bottom line, but it does.
While I have not seen studies that show a direct correlation between interdepartmental dysfunction and company profitability, it’s there, and it can be significant. The coronavirus pandemic has caused severe economic disruptions that will take a heavy toll on companies around the world. Enterprises are rightly operating in crisis mode, but when this passes, and it will, it will be time for departments to work together for the good of the company and its customers.
In the past 25 years, a number of enterprise strategies have captured the mindshare of business leaders. While they shared a focus on enhancing relationships with customers to increase revenue, a secondary purpose was to convince operating departments to cooperate in achieving customer-oriented goals. The best-known strategy was the customer relationship management (CRM) movement, which had two principal and interrelated goals: The first was to get sales, marketing, and customer service departments to work together, and the second was to obtain a complete view of customer behavior. Clearly, the objectives of this movement have not been achieved in most companies.
CRM is still discussed in the market but has been supplanted or complemented by a couple of newer enterprise servicing strategies. First came customer experience management (CEM), followed 10 years later by the customer experience (CX) movement, as well as digital transformation; many more strategies have come and gone.
It might sound simplistic, but cooperation between customer-facing departments can be achieved by assigning a set of goals that include (1) optimizing CX and (2) generating revenue.
When it comes to CX, most executives finally agree that it is the shared responsibility of everyone in a company; therefore, almost every department will have CX as one of its goals. Revenue generation is a different issue. Obviously, it is the top priority for sales and marketing departments. But customer service functions must also be asked to contribute to this goal, even if they do not sell anything. This is because the success of sales and marketing often depends on the actions taken by the customer service department. And, of course, each department has its own specific goals, as should each individual in the company.
Throwing IT into the mix sounds like a deal killer, but it is not. IT does not and should not work in a vacuum. While the department’s primary goals are to keep the lights on and all systems in working order, doing so helps all of the company’s departments achieve their goals, which means IT should also be held accountable for CX and revenue generation.
To be fair, some companies have tried or are currently trying this approach. And this is where the shenanigans begin; when confronted with the need to change, executives leading each of the functions protest that they cannot do their primary job if they have to pay attention to secondary objectives. Sales leaders claim they cannot deliver on their revenue goals if they have to pay attention to customer service issues. Marketing executives say they won’t be able to message and generate opportunities if they are concentrating on CX. And customer service leaders object that they won’t be able to retain their staff if they also have sales and marketing objectives. None of this makes any sense, and it’s time for change.
Companies have started to employ customer experience officers (CXOs). This relatively new function is different from the customer officers of the past. Today’s CXOs have oversight over budgets, which they are supposed to use without any line-of-business responsibility. From a practical perspective, this means that the CXO is responsible for the Net Promoter Score (NPS) without having any idea of what is happening in the customer service or sales department. This person can fund an investment in interaction analytics or even customer journey analytics without having access to the information in the contact center.
The challenge is that for the CXO function to achieve its enterprise goals, department managers will have to work together for the betterment of their corporations. This isn’t going to happen unless CEOs and COOs are willing to make long-overdue changes in corporate goals and structure and begin the process of building new priorities from the ground up.
Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary author and speaker, Fluss drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the service industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.