In any journey, it pays to have an expert guide — and that's particularly true in any company's ongoing journey toward superior customer experience. Some companies have appointed a Chief Customer Officer as their expert guide, to ensure that they take the high road, stay on-course, and accelerate results along the way.
"Showing the path and where we are on that path — kind of like the map at the mall: 'you are here' — gives everyone an idea of how far we've come and how far we yet need to go," explained Milista Anderson, Chief Customer Officer at risk management software firm Sungard's Energy and Commodities division. "I'm part change agent and also part customer advocate. I think there's a need for a healthy balance of both. If there's an issue in day-to-day operations, I'm interested in the process that got us there to begin with. And as a change agent, I'm trying to broker the best interests for customers along with the best efforts from our employees."
Voice of the Customer as a Pivot Point
As a guest on the Customer Experience Optimization online talk show that I host, Milista said she uses survey data as a conversation starter, to get people's attention. "One way we use voice-of-the-customer data is to kind of shock ourselves into reality as to where we are. Our employees want to do their best, but sometimes situations get out of their control for a variety of reasons. And some real clear things have emerged through customer comments which have caused us to launch some very specific improvement initiatives around the product, around our communication, and around how we develop our own people. So everything that our customers have been telling us in one form or another boils down to about seven or eight things. And that has helped us, not only in where we're going to put our strategic efforts, but also in forming some specific work groups for improving the customer experience."
Milista has found a great way to bring the voice-of-the-customer to life, by conducting a monthly internal talk show with customers that becomes a workshop for employees. "One day it just dawned on me that it would be more powerful if our employees heard it straight from the customer's mouth. I have good relationships with many of our customers and they were happy to do it. I ask them three questions:
"There have been some 'aha' moments. For our product developers, who may otherwise see the product as a set of codes and screens they're working on, when they hear the customer talk about how they actually use it and how it impacts their business, it's highly satisfying. And it's very motivating to hear customers talk about the use of a product that they helped to build. Sometimes employees are surprised to hear just how many users are in a particular department or the pressures that go on from day to day in order to meet their business objectives. Employees hear the voice of an accounting supervisor, or the head of natural gas scheduling, or even the trader on the other end talking specifically about 'this is how my group uses your product, this is how our daily jobs are impacted when something goes wrong causing us to be unable to go home to our families'. It really helps to bring in that personal aspect of something that we think of as a packaged product."
"This is a process. You don't do one of these things and then find that all of a sudden your customer-centricity is better overnight. It's about continuous exposure to that type of direct feedback over time, unfiltered, and uninterpreted by me or anyone else. I think that's the key to continue that progress."
A Change Agent's Tools
"We've given my role the title of Chief Customer Officer, and we allow ourselves to have a journey instead of these big initiatives that we just can't achieve. This allows us to make little changes along the way and celebrate the little wins, as opposed to beating ourselves up for big failures. There are a few fundamentals that any change agent uses, starting with good communication. I write a blog which is sent to all our employees, and every time I mention someone's name that a customer has brought up, those postings always get the most comments from employees. People always like to hear their name mentioned, especially attached to a good outcome. Good communication includes repetition and consistency about what our objectives are, the journey, and where we're going."
My note: Milista has a strong background in customer service, process improvement, stakeholder management and other organizational development skills. My recommendation to Chief Customer Officers with a more singular career path is to ensure that these skills and backgrounds are well represented in strong players on your team.
A Change Agent's Roles
"I sit on the executive committee for our division. I report directly to the president and that certainly helps. Our corporate CEO has named 'Customer First' as one of our pillars for growth. And as a business unit, we want it to be an early adopter of that. My part in participating in the weekly management meetings is about: "Here's where we are with our improvements, and here is some key feedback that our customers provided to us — and now what are we going to do about it? It's very informal, and it may not work for everybody, where it may need more structure and more lines of authority, but that's the way our environment and culture work."
A change agent model for your company's Chief Customer Officer may be just what the doctor ordered. Silos in your business are likely the biggest obstacle to achieving superior customer experience, as explained in these related articles: