I originally wrote today’s post for Intradiem. It appeared on their blog on June 19, 2014.
What is the customer experience inflection point?
There comes a time in every company’s history, present time, or future when it must change or adapt – or die.
That’s a pretty melodramatic statement, isn’t it? Maybe. But perhaps it’s also an eye-opener for some companies.
Why? Well, that time is known as an inflection point. What’s that, you say? According to Investopedia, an inflection point is: An event that results in a significant change in the progress of a company, industry, sector, economy or geopolitical situation. An inflection point can be considered a turning point after which a dramatic change, with either positive or negative results, is expected to result. Companies, industries, sectors and economies are dynamic and constantly evolving. Inflection points are more significant than the small day-to-day progress that is made and the effects of the change are often well-known and widespread.
They go on to explain that: Andy Grove, Intel’s co-founder, described a strategic inflection point as “an event that changes the way we think and act.” Inflection points can be a result of action taken by a company, or through actions taken by another entity, that has a direct impact on the company.
So, in order for the business to move forward – successfully – some change or shift needs to occur at that point. I think the customer experience plays a huge role. Don’t think so? I’ll name a few companies, and then let’s talk: Kodak, Blockbuster, Circuit City, RIM, Nokia.
I don’t think there’s a big event within the organization itself that signals you’ve reached the customer experience inflection point. It’s more about the signs all around you; the winds of change are blowing. What are some of the signs?
- Things you’ve been doing for your customers that worked before don’t seem to work any more
- Customer needs shift, but you can’t or don’t keep up
- As a result, customer engagement is down – they’re just not that into you any more
- Competitive influences cause a shift, but you can’t or don’t keep up
- Everyone around you adapts or advances, but you stand still
What are some of the causes? I think there’s a big one. You don’t listen or have stopped listening – to customers, to employees, and to the marketplace. Or maybe you listen but you just don’t really hear what’s being said: you don’t care, or you think you know better. Customers don’t know what they need, right?
How does an organization move beyond the inflection point? How does it survive and come out better and stronger on the other side? How do we take the business to a new level?
Without a doubt, serious changes need to be made. Let’s start with this high-level list.
Leadership: It starts at the top. If you’ve got the wrong leadership in place, it’ll be really tough to steer the ship in the right direction. I’m reminded of the struggles that J.C. Penney has had and is having.
People: You need to have the right people on board: employees who want to be there; employees who are passionate about the brand; employees who are motivated to push through the tough times and see the business survive and thrive. This may require training, hiring for new skills and new attitudes; you’ll certainly want to be sure there’s a culture fit.
Employee Engagement: I list this separately from “leadership” and from “people” because employee engagement is a two-way street that requires both to work together for the greater good. When employees are engaged, their passion and ambition for the business will ensure they are focused on its success.
Employee Empowerment: This is no time to not trust employees to move the business forward. You hired each individual for the background, experience, and value that he/she brings to the table. Let them contribute. You’ll be amazed at what this level of trust can do for employees, and, ultimately, for the business.
Culture: Tying the items just mentioned together is the culture; ideally, at this point, the culture shifts ever so slightly into a culture of survival. But, having said that, if you’ve got a strong culture in place already, there should be no shift.
Processes: Kill the bad ones, and create new ones. Bad processes are often deal breakers. Map the customer journey, from the customer viewpoint, to understand the processes the customer must go through to engage with your business, but also take a look at what happens behind the scenes that hinders the employee from delivering a great experience.
Customer Experience Redesign: Clearly, what was working for customers before is no longer working; this could be products, services, service, and more. Understand your customers and their evolving needs. Define personas. Take a look at that map you just created and figure out where the painpoints are. Figure out where customer needs have shifted and where your competitors excel. Listen to customers, employees, and the market. Act on what you hear. Sometimes they really do know what they want. Even if it is a faster horse.
Innovation: Take a human-centered approach to defining and designing new products and services for your customers. Do your homework. Listen to your customers. Design and deliver based on their needs. It’s OK to think ahead, too.
Customers: If you’ve built a fan base over time, if you have a community of customers that have been by your side, that want you to survive, they will stay with you through thick and thin. If you’ve got this fan base, you should never reach this customer experience inflection point. In theory. But, customers can’t control your internal decisions. Ah, perhaps you’re not as customer-centric and customer-focused as you thought you were. Hmmm. Time to fix that.
There are probably more things that a business can do. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically to rise to the next level of performance. Miss that moment – and you start to decline. -Andy Grove
Winning mix: employee empowerment + customer centricity
Great article Annette. I love how companies are becoming more "human" by relying on their employees to create better connections with customers.
Your article made me think about a recent video by Starbucks that announced that the brand would focus again on being a "meeting place" which is what they started with. In their case, they just went back to their roots to build a better customer experience.
I think you make a good point about the need to always be listening …..to customers, employees and the market. However, I'd urged companies to go further as there is a lot of listening done. I'd urge them to listen, really hear what is being said and then to consider what it means for them and their business. These elements may be implied in what you write but I think they are worth splitting out as separate steps if companies are going to strive to stay competitive.
That is a very interesting post Annette. I wonder how many big companies are simply interested in just maintaining the status quo and reward their managers accordingly. If you are fat and happy their isn't a lot of incentive to change?
I'm not sure that I agree that there is a CX inflection point for organisations per se.
Certainly I agree some organizations move away from the customer over time and forget who is paying the salaries (the customer) but I don't think that this is a CX issue: it is a whole of company issue.
You are right on the areas of re-focus (Leadership, etc) but that are greater than CX, they are getting the entire organization back on the right footing.
So I don't disagree with the symptoms or remedial action identified, I just think they are more comprehensive than CX.
Thanks, Aurelie. If you find the link to that video, please share it. But I love that.
I agree. I'm a huge advocate that listening is not the most important thing… doing something with what you hear is. Thanks for splitting it out.
I think the answer to "how many" is… more than we care to acknowledge, sadly. How long can they stay fat and happy, though, is the question.
Thanks, Adam, for your comment. Point well taken. But then, a CX issue is a whole company issue.