Five qualitative approaches to customer listening:
- Customer advisory boards – Recruiting customers to provide ongoing feedback and participate in group sessions can generate excellent advice and improvements. Careful planning to recruit the right group of customers and structuring the sessions to focus on a few primary issues are important best practices.
- Focus groups – Focus groups can be conducted with a variety of small groups to obtain a well-rounded collection of insights. Expertise in managing the discussion is important to ensure all opinions are heard and to prevent anyone from dominating the discussion.
- Interviews – This technique is conducted one person at a time, either over the phone or in person. While it is more time consuming, it is a highly personal way to obtain terrific insights from various customers.
- Experience sessions – This complements techniques such as journey mapping. These sessions are about charting the ideal experience and leverage creativity and imagination to transform customer experiences.
- VOCE – Voice of the Customer through the Employee is all about understanding customers by asking the employees who work with them the most. Employees often are well aware of necessary improvements.
Retention and growth of existing customers are at the forefront of executive agendas, and we continually create new initiatives to help increase our odds of retaining and growing the customer base. Customer experience professionals can play a role in helping the sales team acquire the right customer. Here are a few steps to consider taking:
- Profile the leads at an organization level. If the leads are stored in a centralized system, start to profile them into various groups. This may include the size of the company, industry, perceived strategic fit and method by which they were acquired as a lead, to name a few. From there, look at how customers with the same profile have worked as customers once acquired. Which profile is the most profitable? What are their retention and growth rates? Which groups have a high cost to serve?
- Understand the needs of each group. Once you have a set of personas or profiles among the company’s sales leads, think about the needs of each group. What is causing them to put your company into their consideration set? That will help the sales teams determine specific strategies to help the leads convert to sales. You may need to do some exploratory work both internally and with customers to assist with this step.
- Move to an opportunity-level assessment beyond the higher-level needs. Once you have determined which profiles have the highest potential, think about the specific opportunity. Just because an opportunity with this potential customer has worked in the past may not mean it is a good fit this time. Make sure your company can solve a particular challenge they are asking for.
Advancing your CX strategy is best accomplished through a partnership – grounded in active leadership on both sides – between CX professional and CEO. The ultimate ownership of customer experience resides with your CEO. Here are several ways CEOs play a role in advancing your CX Strategy:
- Use insights strategically. For CEOs, customer intelligence drives decision-making at key foundational levels. Fundamentally, customer-focused CEOs use customer insights broadly in ways that make a real difference for their customers and, by extension, their business.
- Set aside short-term financial gain. Usually, CEOs who are focused on customers are willing to set aside short-term financial gain for the longer-term benefit to customers. Knowing that positive, sustainable results won’t happen overnight, these leaders demonstrate patience and resist the urge to change course midstream
- Believe in the broader customer story. While CEOs are most likely to interact with a handful of top customers, these leaders know the full, true story is rarely anecdotal. Consequently, with objectivity and an open mind, they engage across the customer base, digging deeper to identify common issues, trends and needs.
- Coordinate across silos. CEOs play the ultimate role in creating and sustaining an environment in which collaboration among functional areas is encouraged. This is one of the most effective methods to break down silos.
- Encourage empathy for customers. When chief executives are focused on customers, they work to establish a culture that prioritizes the customer experience and puts customer needs first. CEOs cultivate empathy for customers among employees, which in turn motivates associates to be customer centric.
- Request information, advice. CEOs value customer insights, and those who are the most customer focused proactively seek it out. These CEOs are regularly requesting information, asking questions or seeking advice about how to improve customer relationships.
- Make the call on resources. If CEOs value the customer and can see how customer experience strategies have business impact, they’ll commit the resources necessary to develop and implement a customer experience that is proactive, personalized and seamless.
Today’s CEOs say customer experience is the most effective way to differentiate from the competition. Yet far too many companies do not realize the full impact and potential. Here are three common barriers most likely to stall progress and threaten overall CX strategy.
- Authority – In many organizations, CX professionals don’t have direct responsibility for resources. They have to rely on their influence to get attention and then hope for success. This lack of authority extends to people, resources and the budgets necessary to drive customer-focused improvement initiatives.
- Access – The customer experience spans many organizational functions, levels and geographies, but too often the CX professional has limited access and exposure to the resources and is ultimately limited by the organizational structure. In attempts to work across silos, some departments may cooperate; others won’t, derailing CX improvements that require collaboration. Similarly, access to data is also a challenge.
- Action and Accountability – CX professionals can no longer afford to simply provide recommendations to the business. CX professionals must stay front and center until the experience is improved from the customer perspective. Without CX’s continued involvement, the effect of customer experience efforts is unclear and unsubstantiated, impacting the long-term viability of CX programs.
Activities like attracting and retaining the right people and engaging employees have become increasingly important to CEOs. Customer experience professionals can be a valuable resource in helping employees across the organization identify with customers. Here are a few tips:
- Identify targets of influence. Because talent management isn’t normally on the CX professional’s radar, probing to find targets of potential influence, building strategic relationships and collaborating with employee-related functions are important and can help create an organization-wide shift in culture.
- Leverage direct employee feedback. Understanding what employees know, understand and think about customers is often the first step in determining how and where CX professionals can create the most impact.
- Support recruitment and hiring. CX professionals are in a unique position to help hiring and recruiting professionals develop a list of characteristics and attributes to look for when hiring employees. If associates are selected with customer focus as part of the criteria, they’re more likely to thrive and contribute to the organization in ways that help create an advantage.
- Get involved in onboarding. Describing to new hires how the company’s culture, strategy and customer-focused purpose create value for its primary stakeholders is an essential way CX professionals can impact employee engagement.
- Organize mentoring and training. Mentoring can be an effective way to expose employees to customer-centric ways of doing business. Pairing veteran employees who have a strong understanding of customer needs with newer employees can help bring customer focus to day-to-day responsibilities. Finding ways to supplement existing training with the customer journey map enhances connections between employees and customers, helping associates feel as if they are part of something significant that extends beyond their job.
- Identify rewards, recognition and even intervention. When actions result in improvements to the customer experience, CX professionals are in a position to nominate employees for awards, share recognition with supervisors and find other ways to highlight and recognize good work that benefits customers. On the flip-side, helping the organization deal with employees who aren’t aligned with the customer strategy is another responsibility of the CX professional.
- Promote through communication. CX professionals can work with those responsible for company communications and internal marketing to ensure customer focus is part of the messaging. This helps promote enterprise-wise solidarity, inspire new ways of thinking and engage associates “beyond the numbers.”
Impact and return involve demonstrating how customer initiatives provide a financial benefit to the company. Metrics such as satisfaction and loyalty cannot be the end goal. Rather, they must connect with other business indicators and activities. When this is in place executives are more willing to invest in customer programs, knowing that results have been shown to positively impact financial performance.
Here are four steps you can take to achieve world-class impact and return:
- Start by aligning the customer perspective with other authoritative sources, such as financial, operational or employee metrics.
- Analyze the information to determine if there is a strong and meaningful relationship. As one area improves, is it having a positive impact on growth and profitability?
- For areas with a strong relationship, prioritize initiatives that will most directly impact the measure.
- As improvements are implemented, measure the business impact.