When I started my first assignment as an independent customer experience consultant, I thought the many years I had prior to this would put me in good stead. After all I had been working in corporates leading customer experience improvements and agency side planning brand experiences for some of the world’s biggest names.
Now as a lead in a international customer experience practice, I realise that was no experience at all. It’s been the last ten years, with 50+ assignments across dozens of sectors and cultures, that has shaped the expertise I offer.
This experience amassed working within companies and interacting with their customers and partners, coupled with the freedom independence brings expand my ideas and ideals in customer centricity, have led me to where I am.
My understanding, practices and belief in the role customer centricity can play in society has evolved. But my core value of the importance of helping others is still the same. I will always be in service of better outcomes for the customer.
This is why I’m interested in customer experience. It’s about betterment. Bettering companies, the lives of their customers, those we work with, our colleagues, other practising consultants and of course me. The wonderful thing about this prophecy is that once a better outcome is achieved, it becomes the standard against which to improve and so it goes on. The work, which is what I love, is never done.
It also means no one person can ever possibly start and finish the race. This is very important to me. I love to be a part of the bigger change, whether the smallest nudge or the seismic shift, my role is not important. I know many are always involved, and all contributions are equal in value of they’ve contributed to the better outcome sought. In the footnotes of time, names matter less, it’s the outcome of the change they achieved which matters.
You need to many be things in customer experience
Some are new skills you can learn on the way, most you only perfect through undertaking multiple assignments with various scenarios and dependences. Many you need to study, learn, test, fail then you will succeed. Many of the topics you find you are an amateur in, working with professionals in their field, so accept your place in the classroom and listen hard, it will be of value.
I never pursued the path of the sciences, yet I spent much of my time now discovering what matters most.
Neither am I that excited about travel, yet every assignment is treated like a new adventure with an ambition to make it a brilliant experience for those on the journey with me.
I wouldn’t class myself as technologically advanced, yet I get to collaborate with world class technologists to raise standards and achieve more.
And I’m definitely not a ‘gamer’, yet I devise countless games as a creative techniques for engagement and problem solving.
No two customer centric requirements are the same, and like a key tenant of the customer centric mindset you must be open to feedback and change. To do this you must have humility. This can’t be trained. You either are or you are not. Whether a CX leader, a service designer, an invited consultant, a CI lead, an analyst, a learning coach or any other role impacting customer centricity, its an essential human quality.
Another consideration is generosity. In CX you find the great souls who seek betterment for all, give more than they get. It’s a strong trait of the enlightened. CX is a long term commitment; the forever strategy. You have to invest and expect nothing back in return. It’s only then do you get your real prize; the progress of others to help towards shared ambitions.
Why CX isn’t right for everyone
I know I am not along in the way I think. There are many brilliant people in our community. I seek them out and collaborate with them where I can. There are many in CX who give back without expectation too. Importantly, in the spirit of uncompromised pursuit of better outcomes I find this exchange is never financial. It’s about relationships, support or an intellectual exchange. For example, I have been asked by a CEO, of a 10 year young Fintech to present on the relevance of CX in their sector. I said absolutely. I would love to help inspire, but let’s keep it short. I once invited him to present on the future of finance on top of a wet Kensington Roof Gardens for a marketing association I was a chair of at the time. This is a meaningful value exchange. The events are some 15 years apart, but it contributes to long term relatonships over contractual, transactional obligations.
When it’s commercial, this intent is compromised. It stops being a passion and becomes a performance. This isn’t a CX thing, it’s how things are for actors, signers, YouTube influencers or anyone else in entertainment bubble.
Performers earn from productions, events, podcasts, speakers slots and articles. There is nothing wrong with that, but remember performing is their profession, not CX – that’s the topic. A price tag to a performance should increase your expectation of the entertainment value, but it doesn’t improve the content quality. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some great performers in CX, there are and they put on a good show. They belong on a stage (when there are stages again). My hat goes off to them. I’ve never been an amateur dramatist or played an instrument to an audience or appeared at an open mike session at the Comedy Store. It’s not for me. 90% of what I do is away from public display. Which you would expect from someone whose responsibility is to help others with specific requirements. I’m happier in a conversation, listening to others and helping clients.
I’d also add that there are two further things you don’t need to be a customer centric professional;
- An ego. At best customer experience should be one of the team, alongside all of the other influencing factors which impact choice. It finds its place, rarely leading. Of course if you can reach the dizzy heights of the top 3%* of companies in CX you will find customers buy and return because of your customer experience as much as any other reason. But to position CX, or those who lead and advise, as the new striker who gets all the glory for the teams win is disrespectful to all those who made the final through ball, motivated the team when they were losing, ran into space to create new opportunities, dived into the mud to save the ball off the line or sat on the subs bench to let others make a contribution (apologies, for the overdose of sporting analogies but it makes the point well).
- An obsession with praise. The very worst types of feedback programmes are those which focus on asking customers, ‘are we good?’ phrased as, ‘would you tell others how great we are?’ or something similar. It’s not about the company, it’s about the customer, what we really want to know is, ‘are your needs and expectations met?’ When facilitating a workshop I will primarily measure the success of the session by how much those involved have got to the outcome planned and enjoyed doing so. But I have a second measure (which I keep to myself), and that is that I am not remembered. After all it’s not about me. But those obsessed with praise struggle to be invisible whilst being in the room. This is another essential trait. You need to make everyone else’s agenda your own. Help them to achieve and then you will too. But importantly, let them be the stars of the show. Let them take the praise.
Do you seek to maximise the difference you can make or are you focussed on what you can take?
When asked what I do for a living I often answer, ‘work with clients to better organise themselves around their customers’. That’s it. The customer is referenced but not the means to achieve this goal. In fact, if what we do isn’t noticed, it can often be the biggest mark of success. I’m in it to make a difference to those I work with, and for those they serve. It’s not restricted to customers and often includes employees, supply chain partners, communities, even competitors (but that’s for another post) and society in general. It’s about making a meaningful difference. The more stakeholders included in the definition of ‘improved outcomes’ the harder it is to succeed, but the more rewarding it is for all.
If the product of your customer experience improvement is a new App enabling an offline process to happen digitally, or a frictionless sales process, or a personalised offer or an empathetic complaints process, then you have limited the potential you could have achieved. To be great, you need to keep going forward, towards even better outcomes, for even more stakeholders. I’ve heard this from many I admire, both leads of customer centric transformations and those helping them. The relentless pursuit of betterment for all is a common trait in progressive types.
The motivation for how we do this is driven by the outcome pursued, the factors involved to increase success to achieve it and the ambition of those engaged. If done with integrity, it often means a compromise on the potential earning of those involved, including external partners. That is okay, it really is. Customer-centricity is not a cash machine, its an investment. If the focus is on what can be earned from being involved, then there is a compromise on the potential outcome, in order to maximise short term gains. That’s an ugly trait to be avoided.
The pursuit of better outcomes requires effort, engagement, endurance, emotional intelligence and expertise among other things. Those whose ambition is to earn money ahead of delivering the best outcome, will not stay the course with you. I think most of us can spot when the design of customer centricity is fashioned this way, but here’s a few red flag ‘CX offers’ I’ve come across to watch out for:
“Although you and your customers are unique, you have to use our standard design model we always use and follow it step by step”
“You need to complete the journey map end to end, and we need to manage it all the way for you”
“We need to set up a voice of the customer platform/feedback solution for you and let it run until you have enough data to tell you what to focus on”
“Forget creating a sustainable competitive advantage through improved outcomes, you want to focus your attention on creating more transactions from your customers”
“Let’s peg your ambitions an external index or a company who isnt us and then calculate how much support you will need from us to match them”
“Let’s start with a company wide event launching a traget you will acheive, exactly what you will do and we will host it”
Feel free to add your own experiences…..
To which, the response to any of the above should simply be, “No we don’t. Please leave”.
So, ask yourself why are you interested in customer experience? If you conclude you want to help others, contribute to better outcomes and make a meaningful difference, you are in the right place. You are an asset to the company you keep and the customers you serve. We should talk. I’m sure we could exchange insights, ideas and inspirational stories. I would learn alot from you.
However, if you are here becuase you want to make serious money, seek the spotlight, need recognition or have an ego which needs stroking, I suggest you learn how to trade commodities, learn to act or live your life in social media. But you should probably stay away from the serious business of having fun improving the world one experience at a time. Otherwise you might be compromising someone elses potential for your own gain.
Posted by Christopher Brooks.
*Source: Meausuring Customer Experience – Prof Dr Phil Klaus