What do you do when your CEO doesn’t believe in CX?

CEOLast year I interviewed a customer experience leader for my blog. During the interview this person had a basic assumption that the CEO was completely bought into the CX program. So I finally stopped and asked, “What do you do when your CEO isn’t on board? How do you get him or her to believe in the business case?” This question caught my interviewee by surprise, as they obviously hadn’t spent any time thinking about this question. After a few seconds, the response was, “Well, then you quit, and go somewhere else where the CEO is on board.”

Of course, this isn’t an option for all CX aspiring and current leaders. We’re dealing with senior leadership at various levels of support and engagement. So I asked some of my CX practitioner friends what they would do. Most were unwilling to go on record, but two did respond with materials I could share.

What Did Some Experts Say?

My first respondent asked to be anonymous, but gave ideas:

“My advice in this scenario is make every effort to understand the company’s strategy.  When the CEO and senior leaders articulate strategy, where does the customer experience fit?  There are organizations where “go elsewhere, CXer, go elsewhere” is good advice.  A CX program isn’t going to be successful at every organization and I think it is important to know when to pursue the debate/conversation/business case and when to walk away.”

Darin Byrne is the Senior Director of Professional Services at Wolters Kluwer Financial Services. He shared a history of engaging executives.

This is the situation I found myself in about 10 months ago. Actually, it was also the situation I was in 7 years ago when I took my current position. My approach was a little different in the two cases, because the situations were different.

Seven years ago, I really just wanted the President’s approval to initiate a training program for customer-facing employees in my team and in a peer’s team. I socialized the idea with my peer and got her interest in the program, and together we put together a business case with the cost of the program in comparison to the benefits. The training provider we used helped us frame up the expected business outcomes using some good industry statistics, and we also made some assumptions about our employees’ abilities to upsell through the service interaction, so we were able to make the case to the President for the expense. We also structured it with a pilot group, and tracked leads and sales to show that the ROI assumptions were valid. Of course, we wrapped other CX practices around the training program such as a clear vision & mission statement, an analysis of customer values and expectations at key touch points, some rudimentary design of interactions based on our analysis and the training, and some reinforcement through recognition of employees who demonstrated the skills. These additional practices were “below the radar” of the President. So, the short story is – we ran the CX program within our span of control with limited support from the President.

This past year, my vision has been much broader. Despite the CX program we’d been running for 7 years, my peer and I realized that there are many things beyond our scope that are negatively impacting the customer experience. As a result, I’ve conducted a broader socialization of the need for CX to all the functional areas of the company. I did that socialization in stages, focusing first on the stakeholders with interest in the business outcomes, and then eventually to the stakeholders who have a role in the operational drivers of those outcomes. I also found a few strategic allies outside of our business unit, at the divisional level, including the head of our divisional brand strategy and also the head of our global operations, who has responsibility for Lean Six Sigma, NPS measurements, and other OpEx best practices. Over many months I presented the case for CX several times, and continually refined it as we researched more and more about best practices. Upon finding the Forrester model, I used a few of the stakeholders to get a baseline maturity assessment. After attending the CXPA Atlanta conference, I felt I had all the knowledge and the “critical mass” of stakeholders to present the case to a broad audience, including the President, in a forum we have for vetting new business ideas. The overall response was resoundingly enthusiastic, and the President voiced support. One of the critical pieces for gaining his support was showing CX as a business discipline that would unify all of our OpEx best practices and fit into our business strategy. We’ve since formed our CX Council and created the CX strategic framework, and now starting to build our metrics framework and queue of CX projects. In this case, the short story is – we socialized and obtained critical mass at the leadership level reporting to the President, understood the factors that would resonate most with each stakeholder including the President, and tailored the message to make sure everyone was on board.

I would not recommend “quit and go elsewhere” if the CEO isn’t on board, at least not without trying to gain buy-in. In both situations for me, it was hard and thoughtful work to make the case, but it gave me the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and learn how to advance an idea that is crucial to the future of the company. It’s given me a greater sense of accomplishment and ownership; I’m far more invested than if the President had come to me and tell me to build a CX program.

———-

Wrapping Up

This is a tough issue, and I’ve been in both situations – one where the CEO fully supported my efforts, and one where he didn’t. I start with Darin’s approach – work to build the business case, engaging the CEO when you have the facts to support your case.  It’s too easy for us to just believe that doing the right thing for the customer will work out for the best – we still need to show a business case. However, there’s a limit.  There’s the saying that, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Or there’s the W.C. Fields version: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”

What are your best practices for engaging with leadership?