3 Skills Required To Be an Effective CX Leader, From Our VP of CX

Christine Rimer, VP of Customer Experience & Advocacy at SurveyMonkey, shares the top 3 skills you need to succeed based on insights from our recent CX peer survey.

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Christine Rimer

April 29, 2020

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As the CX leader at SurveyMonkey, I have the pleasure of meeting with some of the top CX leaders at the most admired high-growth organizations to share stories, best practices and lessons learned about how to run an effective, impactful CX program.  With so many organizations turning to SurveyMonkey’s GetFeedback, Usabilla and SurveyMonkey Enterprise solutions to run their CX programs, I have the privilege of working 1x1 with prospective and current clients to think through how to establish or expand their voice of customer programs. Whether we are discussing failures, opportunities, challenges or responsibilities, I repeatedly hear three skill sets rise to the top as critical for CX leaders. When we released the results from our CX Peer survey this week, I was struck by the recurring theme of these three dominant and disparate skills.

SM CX Cross Functional

Skill #1: Cross-functional connector

It’s hard to think of parts of the customer journey for which a single function or department is 100% responsible. For example, a customer’s satisfaction, effort score, or transactional Net Promoter Score for a customer support interaction goes well beyond the experience the agent provides. It's a reflection of their total experience, including Product’s experience, Engineering’s stability, Finance’s policies, etc. 

As a result, improving the customers’ experience is a cross-functional effort. Per our CX Peer survey, 70% of CX leaders and 85% of those who report to the C-Suite say they are responsible for driving a culture of customer-centricity. And 63% of CX leaders are responsible for the action program to improve product and processes. For a CX program to have impact and actually make the experience better, CX leaders need to influence a company’s culture to be customer centric and drive action to improve the experience. To be successful, they need to be master conductors of a cross-functional orchestra. 

I was recently asked the first skill that popped into my head as most important for a CX leader. I

answered “influence.” Per our CX Peer survey, CX teams are lean with 33% of organizations funding a CX team of one with the expectation that this leader will influence, inspire and mobilize their leadership and cross-functional peers to ask, analyze, and take action on customer feedback to improve the customer experience. In addition, CX leaders are often the cross-functional program managers responsible for executing the most complex and important initiatives. Failure to influence and inspire action is not just a personal failure to execute, it’s a failure to act on the feedback that your customers took time to provide you. 

How to run a successful CX cross-functional program
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Skill #2: Analyst

When asked to demystify or simplify “customer experience”, I remind folks that customers are people. The definition of experience is the “impression you leave from an event or occurrence.”  So customer experience is understanding the impression your organization leaves on people.  You need to ask people for feedback, interpret what matters most and then do something about it.  

Per our CX Peer survey, 65% of CX leaders are responsible for establishing or expanding their customer feedback program. This means they need to determine what questions they ask and where they ask those questions in their customer’s journey, including the increasingly important digital experience. The CX leader must analyze the customer feedback they receive and look for themes and insights in order to make recommendations.  

To effectively drive timely action, the recommendations for action need to take into consideration an organization’s business strategy. Understanding past decisions and strategies puts that feedback in context. In addition, it’s important to understand your current strategy and priorities because there may be opportunities to act more quickly to improve the parts of the experience where resources are already allocated to make improvements.

It’s always rewarding when the data clearly points to an opportunity such as a sticking point in the digital journey or the impact of a recent product change.  More often than not, you need to analyze that feedback with additional data sources to create an effective CX action plan.

Skill #3: Business systems

I spent my first decade in Silicon Valley in IT running various business system programs including building or migration data warehousing, business intelligence, CRM and billing systems. Not surprisingly, a number of my CX leader colleagues also spent time mapping processes and connecting data to run their businesses.

Running a holistic CX program means that you connect the feedback to additional data sources to make sense of action you should take. Per our CX Peer survey, 29% of CX leaders said their top challenge was “connecting CX data with operational data.” 

For example, if a product in your portfolio is averaging a +37 rNPS with top detractor reasons around pricing, support and functionality, you need to merge that feedback with operational data such as product usage, financial data, and customer data like duration of time as a customer. By segmenting data on these filters, it could signal an opportunity to improve customer onboarding based on feedback from customers in their first year or to focus on those customers that are not actively engaged with your product.  

Finally, every trend report from every analyst in the CX space will emphasize the importance of measuring the ROI or financial impact of your CX program.  Per our CX Peer survey, 32% of CX leaders say they have no clear metric defined or measured.  In order to measure the impact, you need to be able to join your CX data with financial data to build your business case.  For example, by combining NPS data with renewal rates, you can calculate the financial upside from a ten point improvement in NPS by understanding the renewal rates of your detractors and promoters.  

With 89% of companies competing primarily on the basis of customer experience, up from just 36% a decade ago per Forbes, we know customer experience is a company imperative to remain competitive in today’s environment. As a result, we are seeing more CEOs invite Chief Customer Officer (CCO) or Chief Experience Officer (CXO) to join the C-Suite. A CCO/CXO needs to be a savvy cross-function connector, a masterful analyst who can surface the most important insights as well as an experienced business system integrator who can connect siloed data. Impossible? The CX leaders I know, respect, and trust don’t think so. 

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