The Myth of the Customer-Focused CX Leader

Back in February (which feels like a century ago!), our analyst Diane and I were at the offices of Legrand AV, interviewing VP of Customer Experience Laurie Englert and her team. During a break, I turned to Diane and said, “There’s something here. I’m not sure what it is, but something stands out as different.”

“I know what it is,” she said. “Each one of them mentioned how they talk to customers multiple times a week.”

That was it! And it definitely separated Laurie and her team from the other 82 or so CX professionals we’ve interviewed so far this year.

And it wasn’t just the CX team: Legrand’s president and the general manager talk with customers regularly and the digital lead talks with customers nearly every day.

It’s not CX without the C

Throughout our entire initiative to capture the current state of CX as a discipline, literally none of the other CX practitioners we’ve interviewed mentioned talking with customers on a regular basis the way the Legrand team does.

After those revelatory interviews, we added a question – “When was the last time you spoke with a customer?” – to our discussion guide to make sure we specifically address this.

The answers we’ve gotten since reveal a ton about the CX industry. And it’s not pretty.

Often, people claimed they “talk to customers all the time” – but when pressed, it turns out by “talking” they meant conducting surveys.

Some had to think back a year or more to come up with the last time they spoke with a customer.

Some dismissed the question, pointing out it was too expensive to undertake the effort.

Yikes.

Make it a habit

You don’t need to create a Customer Advisory Board (though that’s a good idea). And you don’t need to hire Heart of the Customer to help you (though that’s also a good idea!). Just make it a practice to regularly get out and talk with customers.

Along with Laurie, my favorite example of someone getting this right is Mark Smith, who is driven to talk to as many customers as possible. (Full disclosure: Mark is now on our Advisory Board, although he wasn’t when I conducted this interview. We also interviewed him previously for our book.)

While rigor does require a budget, you can still see substantial benefits from regularly connecting with customers in these three easy and inexpensive ways:

  1. Ask to join sales or account calls. Account calls give you the benefit of hearing how your experience is run today. Many are virtual (especially during COVID-19), but will still help you understand the issues customers are facing and provide context to your survey results. If you’re a B2C company, make every effort to visit the field.
  2. Sit in your contact center. Typically, this won’t cost you anything, other than travel expenses if your contact center is located in a secondary market. While contact center agents can’t help you understand excellence, they can offer invaluable insights into where problems occur. Amazon even requires executive visitors to take calls, which is a great practice.
  3. Call on known customers. When I joined a Fortune 50 company back in the early aughts, I was told there was no budget for visiting customers (don’t get me started…). So I got creative and came up with an unconventional approach: I found people I knew personally on our customer list, bought them a beer or a cup of coffee, and learned all I could about their experience with us.

It’s not rocket science: You simply can’t claim to be customer-focused if you never talk with customers. (Even with social distancing restrictions, you can join sales calls or make contact via Skype, Zoom, or other platforms.)

So take an hour away from analyzing surveys or building PowerPoints to contact an account manager and ask to join their next call. You’ll be glad you did.