CX Mistake #1: Faking Executive Commitment

In this series of posts, we examine some of the top mistakes companies make in their customer experience management efforts. This post examines mistake #1: Faking Executive Commitment. It’s very easy for an executive to say that he or she is committed to customer experience, but it takes much more than words to drive sustainable change across an organization.

Without a strong level of executive commitment, companies can exert significant energy towards customer experience only to eventually fail. As a result, organizations revert back to their original behaviors without any sustained customer experience improvements, leaving behind a trail of unfinished efforts and frustrated, disheartened employees.

One of our 6 Laws Of Customer Experience is: You can’t fake it. Employees figure out what’s really important to their leaders and will eventually see through any veneer of commitment. Executives demonstrate their real priorities in their decisions and actions, the priorities they set, the trade-offs they make, and the way that they chose to spend their time.

Most organizations have a strong tendency to resist change. Since improving customer experience often requires changes across an organization, executive commitment is required to overcome the innate inertia.

Leaders, as it turns out, fall into one of five levels of commitment:

  • Opposers don’t believe in customer experience. These executives generally won’t support customer experience efforts no matter what ROI data they see, but can become passives when they see strong support from their peers.
  • Passives don’t really care about customer experience. These executives are willing to become toe-dippers if they see strong support from their peers.
  • Toe-dippers are willing to offer some time and resources for customer experience. These executives will increase their participation and can even become supporters if they see strong business opportunities.
  • Supporters are willing to give their resources to customer experience efforts and encourage their peers to do the same because they inherently understand the business value of these efforts. They use ROI results to strengthen their discussions across the company.
  • Advocates fight any battle to make sure that customer experience efforts are funded. They generally understand the impact that customer experience has to the long-term competitiveness of the company without any project-based ROI data.

How can you gauge the actual commitment of your executive team? We’ve created a checklist of eight signs of executive commitment that help identify the actual commitment of an executive. Advocates demonstrate most of these items.

Here are some tips for avoiding this mistake:

  • Communicate the four CX competencies. It’s easy for companies to think that they can make superficial changes and wind up with great customer experience. But it takes much more effort than that. Customer experience leaders can make sure that their senior execs understand the breadth of efforts required to build a customer-centric culture by explaining the four CX competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Compelling Brand Values, Employee Engagement, and Customer Connectedness.
  • Always refer to the journey. Customer experience change does not come overnight, so companies need to be prepared to hold their focus for several years. To help maintain this focus, try and frame your current customer experience efforts as part of a longer-term journey.
  • Teach execs how to transform their orgs.Many times I find execs looking for advice on how to drive the charge, so here’s some to share. The leaders that are most effective at leading transformation demonstrate three key characteristics, they: 1) Communicate “why” (making sure their people understand the rationale for change), 2) model the desired behaviors (showing commitment in their actions), and 3) reinforce change (continuously looking for ways to overcome inertia).
  • Locate a committed leader. While it will take the CEO and his/her staff to drive organization-wide change, individual operating units inside of organization can become more customer-centric. Look for a business unit leader who is truly committed and start the customer experience efforts in his/her organization. Success in that group can help to get other executives on board.
  • Make the business case. Some execs may be committed based on their belief that customer experience is a critical component of their organization’s success.But they need to continuously make trade-offs and convince others to focus on customer experience. To help these execs stay on course, it’s very helpful to provide them with compelling business cases and anecdotes about how customer experience is generating positive business results.
  • Appeal to the needs of senior execs.To fully engage senior execs, make sure to find ways to tap into their emotional needs. How do you do this? By focussing on two common areas: Their desire to be loved by customers (share direct negative feedback from customers) and their desire for greatness (paint a picture of how your efforts will help them make the company, and their legacy, great).
  • Match ambition with commitment. If senior execs aren’t true advocates for customer experience, then don’t try and make significant changes. While initiatives may start out okay, they will likely stall when changes are required across multiple internal organizations. It’s important to realize that not every company can or should focus on customer experience transformation.

The bottom line: You just can’t fake real commitment

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

2 Responses to CX Mistake #1: Faking Executive Commitment

  1. Joe McFadden says:

    “Employees figure out what’s really important to their leaders and will eventually see through any veneer of commitment.”

    That is so very, very true. Employees will quickly learn what really matters and what is just lip service. You can’t expect your organization to follow through on something that they know means so little to the C suite in the long run.

  2. One of the confusing messages executives often deliver is to target premier customer service and cost leadership in the same sentence. What’s more, they often set up the same “systems” to try to deliver these objectives.

    The suspicion is that customer experience efforts are just veneer on the real organizational goal of driving out costs. After years of espousing re-engineering, total quality management, zero-defect production, and kaizen techniques as ways to eliminate waste, one sometimes can’t help but suspect motives on the part of some executives.

    Bruce–your checklist is a great way to unmask those who are not fully committed.

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