Three steps to start your customer experience program

I love getting together with my fellow customer advocates. Change-makers who want to make both their company and the entire world more customer-centric. I really enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with my fellow CX advocates, and do it at every chance I get.

A popular topic is how to start a customer experience program company, as many are stranded evangelists and are unsure how to make a change. I tell them that a successful customer experience program relies on three pillars: a leader, a team and a vision. I’ve never seen a successful program without all three.

Photo by Tom Hamster, courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo by Tom Hamster, courtesy of Creative Commons

Let’s start with the leader.

That should be you. But first you need a sponsor to give you this role, ideally the CEO. Getting the attention and the support of your CEO is typically the hardest step. To do this you need to build a case for a focus on customer experience, and you need to prove why you’re the best person for this role. I have met dozens of potential customer experience leaders who are unable to start because they have not effectively made the case.

Is it necessary to get the mandate from the CEO? Not strictly – but it’s awfully hard to make progress without your CEO having your back. I’ve met plenty of people who do amazing work without their CEO’s blessing – but you are constantly hamstrung. While influence without authority is the inherent nature of this role, it becomes even harder without support from the top.

Next is the team.

To build and sustain the change you need cross-functional governance. While governance models vary, they all require involvement of the teams needed to carry out change – product, operations, marketing, sales, field leadership, etc. If a team isn’t represented, how can you expect them to buy into the change and make it happen?

Successful governance members are at a high enough level that they can drive change, typically a Vice President. Getting this level of participation is typically the hardest step. But settling for lower-level involvement will leave you requesting change, but not delivering it.

The third pillar is a vision to guide your customer-focused changes.

Will you focus on being flexible and responsive to customer needs, or will you create  the simplest experience for your customers? A customer vision will help you decide what to do – but more importantly, will guide what you don’t do.

Don’t settle for a lukewarm mission that you can create in a one-hour meeting. Your customer vision statement needs to guide what projects you kill. Imagine if a team at Sam’s Club chose to add a concierge service like Nordstrom’s. This is obviously a bad idea, but only because they have a clear vision. Creating this clear vision requires cross-functional involvement, and this is typically (you guessed it) the hardest step. But without it, teams will create contradictory experience elements in support of their view of customer needs. You’ll create a compromise experience. And no customer wants that.

Do you have to create the three pillars in this order? No. Sometimes a pillar is already in place. You may have an existing structure to serve as your governance model. Or perhaps you already have a strong customer vision. In that case, don’t reinvent the wheel – use what you have.

The important thing is to get started creating your three pillars. That is typically the hardest step.