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Can customer experience leaders fall from grace? How can they maintain their greatness?
Last fall, Sarah Hines wrote a blog post that posed the question: Is there such a thing as a customer experience ceiling? What happens when companies are receiving awards for customer experience? How do they take it to the next level? Is there a next level?
Sarah then asked on Google+: Once your program is considered great [i.e., winning awards, based on her opening paragraph], what do you focus on to become extraordinary?
This is a fair line of questioning, without a doubt.
When you’ve achieved customer experience greatness, when your efforts have matured, is there anywhere else to go but up? Yes. Can you fall from grace? Yes.
Let me take a step back and talk a little about customer experience maturity. There are several well-known, well-documented maturity models to assess the organization’s commitment to delivering a great customer experience. Here’s how some of those models define the most-mature stage.
Gartner’s CEM Maturity Model has five stages, with the most advanced being The Optimized Stage.
By this stage, CEM has been adopted as a working culture, not simply a set of standards which employees are expected to work to. There is no requirement for incentives or rewards to promote good customer centric behavior or working practices, and employees are now empowered to make the best effort towards improving the customer experience using their own initiative.
Temkin’s CX Maturity Model has six stages, with the sixth one being Embed. In this stage, customer experience is an integral part of the company’s culture and not managed as a separate activity. A great customer experience is a byproduct of focusing on the brand’s mission and purpose.
Company delivers great customer experience without focusing on it explicitly. It comes as a result of the entire organization being committed to the company’s clear sense of purpose.
Forrester’s Path to Customer Maturity has four phases, with the most advanced being Differentiated, where companies move beyond simply a good customer experience to a differentiated customer experience, which requires companies to operate differently. They uncover unmet customer needs and reframe problems to include those underlying needs. They rethink their entire customer experience ecosystem, flipping it on its head to reorient it around the steps in a customer’s journey rather than around the company’s product silos or business units.
Beyond Philosophy’s Maturity Path has five stages, with the most-mature level being the Natural Stage, similarly hinting at a customer focus embedded into its DNA.
Finally if you reach the natural stage, where the DNA of the customer is embedded within the organisation and employees have a natural understanding of the customer needs and emotions, and the senior leadership is putting customers in front of short term profits then you won’t need the role of Chief Customer Officer anymore nor a dedicated customer experience department.
Note that none of these models mentions anything about winning awards. (By the way, I realize that awards weren’t the focus of Sarah’s piece.) Then how do we know when we’ve arrived? Are awards the be-all-end-all signal that we’re the best we can be? Speaking as a former competitive athlete, I know a thing or two about that. I can tell you that the answer is “No.” Awards tell us that we did the best, better than anyone else, at the moment. At that moment, we were at the top of the game – not necessarily at the top of our game.
Should we ever rest on our laurels? I think we know the answer to that. If we do rest on our laurels, we will surely be overrun by our competitors. Never mind that our customers will no longer want to do business with us.
So, in a long, round-about way, back to the question Sarah’s blog post poses: Is there such a thing as a customer experience ceiling? No, I don’t believe so. My comment on her post was: “It’s a journey, not a destination. Expectations change. What delights today may not delight tomorrow. It’s important to always keep your pulse on changing customer needs so that you don’t reach your own self-imposed ceiling.” After all, that’s what CX Journey™ is all about; it’s what this blog represents.
Customers change. Customer needs, desires, and expectations change. As long as that’s happening – and I don’t see that every changing – there’s no ceiling.
You believe you’ve achieved customer experience greatness. What then do we focus on going forward? What’s next? I hate to sound boring, but you’ll keep doing the same (structural) things you’ve been doing to get you there:
- Understand your customers
- Know customer preferences
- Treat different customers differently
- Listen to customers
- Watch for signs of emerging trends (industry and CX) and changing (customer) expectations
- Measure your performance
- Act on what you hear
- Map the customer journey
- Take a holistic, not siloed, approach to CX
- Get ahead of the curve
- Continue to innovate and differentiate
- Improve processes
- Hire the right people
- Train employees on what a great customer experience looks like
- Communicate and live the brand promise
- Stay focused and obsessed
- Always save a chair for the customer
Can the great ones stumble? Absolutely. Consider just one of many reasons: a new CEO or executive team with a different approach or strategy or vision comes on board and derails existing efforts. It could
happen. Remember that your customer experience is only as strong as your weakest link.
No matter how much you’ve won, no matter how many games, no matter how many championships, no matter how many Super Bowls, you’re not winning now, so you stink. -Bill Parcells
I love the theme of constantly improving here, Annette!
This is why I hate benchmarking Annette
Either it tells you you are poor, in which case you need to do something about it
Or it tells you you are great, in which case you sit on your laurels and then you need to do something about it
I could not agree with you more
I learnt the story of Pets At Home in the UK who used the Best Company to Work For competition to help them on their improvement journey. It took them 8 years of learning and improvement to win the competition. Now that they have won it they are not sitting on their laurels they are off setting even higher standards for themselves and looking for a new 'game' to compete in.
Good point about benchmarking, James. Thanks!
Thanks, Adrian. I'll have to look up their story. That's a great one, indeed, and one that we hope others follow!