This is not customer service

Changing consumer expectations demand that companies go beyond the established wisdom on customer experience and establish a sense of shared values.

“Customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company.” 

Tony Hsieh, internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist

The area of customer experience (CX) has exploded in recent years to become a powerhouse driving growth and revenue at companies across the world. As the discipline has grown in importance and credibility, so too has the number of people working in the field. CX is regularly put forward as leading-edge thinking in many areas of business. It might, therefore, be a surprise to you that the phrase ‘the experience economy’ was coined in 1998 – more than 25 years ago. Have we not moved forward from this?

We believe that we have: that an ‘experience’ is no longer enough for a customer; and that, in the emerging values economy, customers want to know more deeply about the organization providing them with a service, what it stands for, and what it believes in, before they decide if they want to be ‘associated’. This customer interest extends beyond the organization to its supply chain. Companies must begin thinking in terms of transparency-by-design to safeguard brand resilience through trust-building. Companies can’t simply say “trust us” when customers are demanding “show us.”

The evolution of CX

The emergence of CX as a respected discipline brings risk with it in the same way as with other specialist functions. We have experienced organizations – you probably have too – where the existence of a health and safety, or innovation, or people and culture function has resulted in an abdication of responsibility by some team leaders. The same can happen with customer experience. 

We predict that the successful organizations of tomorrow will be those that establish a sense of shared values with customers and other stakeholders: employees, service partners, owners or investors, and local communities. This mindset and relationship focus is key. Models and systems do not exist in isolation: the human factor plays a huge role. Embracing this and developing a whole-organization customer-focused culture can yield great rewards. Equally, ignoring the human dimension can result in underperformance, at best – or at worst be terminal for the organization. 

With all the resources out there on the topic, why is great customer experience so rare? This is the acid test of traditional approaches. For any organization wishing to excel in this area, we believe that values-driven organizational alignment focused on delivering a great customer experience is the key. 

Importantly, this cannot be copied from another organization, even one lauded for their performance. Every organization has its own unique set of circumstances. To deliver optimal results, the customer experience strategy needs to be developed considering the context. The key
areas for alignment and coordinated execution are brand identity (often owned by marketing), employee engagement (often owned by HR or people and culture) and customer experience (delivered by ‘operations’). 

This ‘service triad’ needs to be supported by two further areas: the organization’s systems and processes, or day-to-day operating infrastructure; and an aligned approach to measurement and insight. This is quite different from the more traditional organization structure and function-led approach. It can help to mobilize everybody representing the organization in an aligned way, rather than relying on the chief executive or other leadership functions, and it helps to prevent organization structures and in-company power dynamics adversely affecting the organization’s direction and performance. It aligns activities to deliver measurable impact and ultimately creates a culture based on customer focus, high performance and continuous improvement.

Four questions

When you are considering what to introduce in your organization, you will achieve the best results by taking an aligned, joined-up view. It is worth involving appropriate people from different disciplines, and considering all activities from strategy, management and delivery perspectives for the best possible impact. 

      Here are four simple questions that are helpful to bear in mind.

How can the organization’s brand identity be reflected in our people processes for directly employed employees and service partner employees?

How can the organization’s brand identity be reflected in all aspects of the customer experience across all channels?

How can the organization’s systems and processes support the alignment and coordination of the brand identity, employee engagement and customer experience elements?

What measurement and insight processes can help us to understand and assess impact and performance across brand identity, employee engagement, customer experience, and systems and processes? 

How do your customers feel?

As the famous quote, often attributed to Maya Angelou, has it: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That is the essence of customer experience.

The bottom line is that CX is neither a function or department, nor a set of tools or processes. Rather, it is a philosophy or mindset – and a way of being.

Alan Williams is the founder of Servicebrand Global. Dave Stubberfield is director of Carter Consultancy. They are the authors of Supercharging the Customer Experience (LID Publishing).