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CX maturity playbook: Leadership buy-in

Actionable insight to uplevel your approach to gaining leadership buy-in for your customer experience program.

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INTRO

How to use this playbook

This playbook features one of the nine key elements that we measure in our customer experience maturity assessment: leadership buy-in

Here we provide an overview of the element’s five levels followed by actionable next steps to advance from one level to the next.  

If you have yet to assess your maturity, we suggest you take our assessment now, identify your current level of maturity for leadership buy-in and return to this playbook for how to move forward based on your score. 

The insight provided is in partnership with Jeannie Walters, CX expert, CEO, and founder of Experience Investigators™.

ABOUT THE ELEMENT

Leadership buy-in

Having leadership buy-in means all executives in your organization truly understand that a customer-centric culture is the key to success. 

Unfortunately, many customer experience (CX) professionals struggle to convince their executive leadership to believe in and take action toward becoming a truly customer-centric organization. Competing business priorities and misaligned visions for what customer centricity should look like often lead to a lack of alignment and CX progress.

But there are ways to overcome these challenges. For example, CX professionals should demonstrate to leaders how a great customer experience can contribute to their existing business goals and strategy; they should also educate and provide leaders with tools that’ll enable them to lead with customer-centricity. 

Successful leadership buy-in means you have support and commitment from leaders across all departments. Customer experience is the priority at all levels across teams and action is taken to nurture and evolve customer happiness and satisfaction. 

Such a state is achievable through strategic action, which you can start taking today with the help of this playbook. 

The five levels below are defined based on general processes, rules, and expectations of leadership buy-in. We recommend you start with the level that our assessment scored you as.

ACTIONABLE STEPS

Level 1 to Level 5

Level 1   

What it looks like

At this stage, leaders may talk about customer experience as a priority but don’t actually apply accountabilities or action to it. That’s because CX is not seen as a business strategy or discipline, but more of an idea or theory. 

As such, there is no universal CX strategy, and resources are not provided to deliver a better customer experience. 

Executive leadership isn’t cross-functional in how they work together. However, individual leaders may have their own goals around how they define “customer-centricity.” But these ideas are not centralized and the lack of universal tools and technology make it difficult to achieve valuable results. 

You might hear employees make statements such as: 

Our Chief Product Officer says customer experience is important, but I don’t really see how that applies to what we do. We are delivering on our product goals and roadmap, but is that enough? I just wish I understood the meaning of ‘great CX’ better. ” — Product Team Member

Priorities to advance to the next level   

Moving from Level 1 to Level 2 happens when improving the customer experience is assumed to be the responsibility of a few executives instead of the entire leadership team. 

These select leaders are commonly heads of customer-facing teams like Customer Success and Customer Support. And they quickly become the source of CX insight for other leaders within the organization.

To move forward, focus on: 

  • Support system  

  • CX accountability 

How to take action

Step 1: Create a support system to uplevel the leaders already invested in customer experience

Every company has those certain leaders—some because of their role and others because of their passion for customers—that can easily see how investing in customer experience initiatives will benefit the customers and the organization. 

These leaders often take the initiative on customer experience programs on their own, based on their own business acumen and strategy. At Level 2, there is no universal CX strategy within the organization, so they focus efforts on their team’s goals and making improvements to the customer journey at a touchpoint level. 

Nevertheless, these leaders’ teams hear about the importance of CX and its influence on organizational goals much more than other team members. 

And though silos still exist in Level 2, it’s these select leaders that often take the first steps to build a cross-functional CX coalition, encouraging other leaders to take steps to improve the overall customer journey. 

There are a number of ways one can develop a support system to better enable these leaders to expand on their customer experience efforts. Here are some ideas:

  • Highlight the outcomes these leaders are achieving: Communicate across the organization the success stories of these leaders’ CX initiatives. Show the connection between improving the customer journey and better organizational results. 

  • Support coalition building: Encourage leaders to understand the customer journey more holistically. Celebrate cross-functional coalitions that help the customer experience improve. 

  • Identify where CX investments have created real returns: Invite team leaders who have made investments—in people, processes, and technology—in order to collect, understand, and act on customer feedback, to showcase their success to the organization. 

Leadership buy-in for customer experience starts with identifying proof that investments pay off for both the customer and the organization. To advance, start by highlighting and supporting those leaders who took the initiative to begin this process on their own.

Step 2: Establish team-focused CX accountabilities and communicate all successes across the leadership team  

At Level 1, customer experience is often talked about in theoretical terms. There is no organizational accountability, so leaders can self-select whether or not to support a CX strategy within their own teams. 

However, the leaders mentioned in Step 1—those who understand the importance of customer experience and often fall under customer-facing teams—can begin to tie real accountabilities around specific team goals and priorities, using customer feedback metrics and customer-centric values. We discuss this process in detail in our CX maturity playbook: Listen, understand, and act

At Level 2, CX accountabilities are usually tied to the team-level goals. For example, a Contact Center might have the goal of decreasing customer wait time. So they choose to invest in Contact Center agent tools and training. The success of this effort can be measured with operational metrics (actual wait time average) and customer feedback (transactional CSAT post-event surveys).

Here’s another example of CX accountability: Your Digital Marketing team might set a goal of reducing shopping cart abandonment by improving certain troublesome digital journey touchpoints. They could measure their success by tracking abandonment rates and collecting user reviews post-purchase.

Customer Success leaders might assign improved customer follow-up frequency to measure product adoption rates and Net Promoter Score® (NPS) at key points in the journey. 

Even though they lack a holistic review, these individual team goals are all important to the customer journey. Leadership buy-in doesn’t happen overnight. The executive leaders need to see real results from the efforts over and over to believe in the value of customer experience initiatives. 

Team leaders who achieve these results need to communicate to other leaders in ways that show the return on these types of CX investments. Communicating can help build cross-functional coalitions and gain executive-level support. 

Level 2   

What it looks like

At this stage, customer experience is important to a few leaders, but not to all. These select leaders—usually from customer-facing teams—rely on customer feedback data, collected at the touchpoint level, to make small improvements to the customer journey. 

Because these leaders are working in silos, it’s challenging to gain cross-functional leadership buy-in for a universal CX strategy. As such, there is also a lack of investment and resourcing for a better, more holistic customer experience. 

At Level 2, the customer experience strategy has been introduced, but it isn’t truly connected to the daily activities and behaviors of employees and teams. There is no root-cause analysis or cross-functional accountability to address the overall customer experience.

It’s great that we are improving what we can control, including customer wait times, but the real issues are actually happening before customers contact us for help. It’s frustrating that the issues causing customers to be upset, like product delays, are not addressed by those teams. It’s up to us to solve things for the customer instead of preventing these issues from happening. — Customer Support Team Member

Priorities to advance to the next level   

Moving from Level 2 to Level 3 happens when customer experience becomes a priority for all executives in the organization. Leaders become more willing to provide resources toward CX initiatives that support business values and goals, especially as they relate to moving the needle with CX metrics like NPS, CES, and CSAT.

At Level 3, the organization’s culture is built to support customer-centricity, and leaders are expected to lead accordingly. To gain leadership buy-in at this stage, appeal to the ways CX efforts will aid the advancement of customer experience metrics and business goals.

To move forward, focus on: 

  • CX as a business priority 

  • Connection between CX and business goals

How to take action

Step 1: Create a communications plan to highlight CX as a business priority

It’s time to move beyond just customer-facing teams considering CX as a priority. A communications plan can show other leaders, those who might consider themselves outside of the customer experience realm, how they are impacting the customer’s journey. 

The communications within the organization should focus on what’s working. Highlight the investments and strategies that provided real results. Feature the “quick wins.” For example, you can show how reducing the wait time for customers in the Contact Center has resulted in a higher CSAT score for those interactions.

At this stage, your goals of communicating the importance of customer experience should include:

  • Reinforcing how CX efforts support overall organizational goals, like gaining market share or increasing renewal rates.

  • Showcasing leaders who have made improvements to the customer journey beyond just at the touchpoint level.

  • Sharing customer feedback and storytelling to gain leadership understanding and empathy.

As the organization matures, communication on a regular basis helps reinforce these ideas and reassure leaders that CX is not just a buzzword or idea. There are real returns on these investments.

Step 2: Tie CX metrics and outcomes to overall business goals and values to aid leadership buy-in and cross-collaboration 

Customer experience is often measured with survey-based metrics only, which is limited in the insights it can provide. Many leaders feel confident in how feedback is collected and measured, but less confident in acting on that feedback to provide business results.

In fact, only 4% of CX leaders believe their CX measurement system empowers them to understand the return on investment of a decision. That means 96% believe they can’t take the right actions to deliver business results. 

CX metrics can’t be measured in a vacuum. Watching numbers go up and down is not the goal of measurement. That’s why to advance to Level 3, it’s critical to connect CX metrics with real business outcomes.

When communicating about customer experience efforts, explain the impact of the metrics. For example, explain how an increase in Net Promoter Score (NPS) has been shown to drive organic growth. There may not be enough data within the organization at this point, so use overall data points to help connect CX investment with real returns. Bain & Company’s research shows that, in most industries, Net Promoter Scores connected to 20% to 60% variation in organic growth rates among competitors. The same research also shows that leaders in NPS outgrew its competitors.

Demonstrating how good CX will lead to better business results is key to gaining buy-in across the organization.

When presenting and reporting on CX metrics, consider:

  • What business results do leaders prioritize? How do these CX metrics help show progress toward those goals?

  • Which metrics are most important at this point in the customer’s journey? 

  • What do other leaders or teams need to know to help achieve these results?

Cross-team transparency helps to make progress and keep everyone on track. Staying focused on overall organizational goals helps leaders think beyond their team goals and do more to improve CX beyond just the touchpoint level.

Level 3   

What it looks like 

At this stage, customer experience is a priority for all executives in the organization. CX metrics are tied to business values and goals; success is measured with these experience metrics at the team level, and there is an emphasis on creating a customer-centric culture.

Customer experience improvements are made in a more holistic way, as leaders work cross-functionally. CX results are understood as part of the bigger organizational strategy, and investments are made to ensure those results. Thanks to centralized CX governance, leaders understand what to prioritize for CX improvements and hold teams accountable for the changes required. 

CX goals are prioritized within each team, and communication about customer experience is consistent across the organization. Employees feel empowered to act on customer experience insights. Leaders hear directly from team members about how their customer experience efforts lead to business success. The customer’s story is told through their own words and empathy is developed throughout the organization.

You might hear employees make statements such as: 

It’s really powerful to hear the customer’s story and what an impact our work has on their own success and happiness. The efforts we’ve put into creating a more effortless experience is paying off in not just what our customers say but also in how they act. Our referrals are up, we have a customer advisory board, and our business is doing really well. I didn’t always believe that customer experience was more than just business jargon. Now, I’m a believer! — Chief Revenue Officer

Priorities to advance to the next level   

Moving from Level 3 to Level 4 happens when customer experience becomes not just a priority for all executives in the organization, but the top priority. 

At Level 4, the organization has a well-run process to prioritize CX efforts and measure success. There is centralized customer data and governance to prioritize the right investments, resources, and goals. 

To move to the next level, leaders rely on customer feedback and overall behavioral data to not just analyze what’s happened, but also to make decisions. There are broader investments into continuous improvement for both the customer journey and the employee experience and culture. There is most likely a dedicated CX leader and a customer experience strategic council or governance leadership committee.

Lastly, at Level 4 teams have an understanding of the overall customer journey and collaborate on improving the experience journey-wide. The voice of the customer is shared widely throughout the organization, and leaders have a robust understanding of how CX efforts drive business results.

To move forward, focus on: 

  • A CX Strategic Council

  • Employee enablement

How to take action

Step 1: Develop a CX Strategic Council to centralize efforts and prioritize resourcing within the entire organization 

This team of cross-functional leaders may have a different name, but the goal is to centralize how CX efforts are prioritized and resourced. 

The CX Strategic Council should meet on a regular basis, sometimes monthly, to review customer feedback, new insights, and recommendations for improvement. The Chief Experience Officer (CXO) or Chief Customer Officer (CCO), or other C-Suite leaders sponsor and approve these recommendations for funding. 

It’s helpful to define the roles and responsibilities of each Council member, the goals of the team, and the rubric for evaluating customer experience efforts. 

This team may also define organizational-wide CX initiatives and communicate throughout the organization. Leaders hold each other accountable for actions needed and gain support from others as required.

Since, at Level 4, CX is a top priority throughout the organization, this cross-functional team focuses on the customer experience improvements that will mean the most to the customer and the organization overall.

The Council also helps every leader in the organization have the right customer information to make better decisions.

Step 2: Enable employees to deliver better experiences by investing in broader CX initiatives throughout the organization

To advance to Level 4, leaders should focus on how to improve the employee experience and the culture of the organization. 

Investment in continuous CX education for employees, as well as tools to help solve inefficiencies internally, will lead to improved customer experience. It’s time to make the case for how employee engagement and empowerment lead to better customer experiences. 

For example, investing in improved tools and technology for a more centralized view of the customer will make serving customers easier for both the employees and the customer. Educating employees on how best to rely on these new tools, as well as the overall customer journey, will lead to customers feeling more recognized at any point along their journey. This personalization and recognition will lead to more loyalty and lower customer churn.

Leaders who understand this broader perspective will see where to invest in people, technology, and tools that improve CX and business results.

Level 4   

What it looks like 

At this stage, leaders throughout the organization use customer feedback and predictive analytics to drive their decisions. Customer experience is a top priority for all leaders, and teams feel well-informed about CX goals.

A named CX leader, like a Chief Experience Officer (CXO) or Chief Customer Officer (CCO), is typically part of the C-Suite.

Leaders are empowered to invest in CX in a variety of ways, including via technology, tools, and training. Organizational values are tied into everything teams do and customers feel that reflected in their experiences.

Centralized CX governance means leaders work together and build coalitions to get the most important things done. Team members know to make a case for CX efforts by tying the estimated outcomes with desired organizational goals. 

At Level 4, Leaders are apt to listen to cases that drive business results whilst keeping the customer top-of-mind. The voice of the customer is shared throughout the organization in a variety of ways, and there is visibility and access to customer insight across all teams.

Leaders rely on customer feedback and overall behavioral data to analyze what’s happened and make smarter decisions. There are broader investments into continuous improvement for both the customer journey and the employee experience and culture; to ensure this, there is most likely a dedicated CX leader and a CX Strategic Council or governance leadership committee.

You might hear employees make statements such as: 

Our top priority is customer experience because we know that’s the key to a successful business. I serve on the CX leadership team with peers from around the organization, and we make decisions based on customer feedback, predictive analytics, and our business vision, goals and values. It’s exciting to work in a place that doesn’t just talk about putting the customer first, but lives it. — Chief Marketing Officer

Priorities to advance to the next level   

Moving from Level 4 to Level 5 happens when the entire culture is one of customer-centricity. Leaders and teams are incentivized and rewarded for customer experience results. And the centralized customer data and CX governance allow every team to access the right information when and how they need it to better serve customers.

To move forward, focus on: 

  • CX incentives and rewards

  • Customer-centric employee journey

How to take action

Step 1: Connect incentives and rewards with CX results to encourage customer-centricity across the organization

At Level 4, it’s not uncommon to have some employees receive incentives and rewards for CX efforts. To advance to Level 5, these programs should be a part of all employee agreements.

Employees throughout the organization should see their daily actions, behaviors, and efforts as directly connected to the CX outcomes that drive business results.

Customer experience is, after all, a team sport. Instead of rewarding individuals, consider providing incentives for the collective team or overall organization. Rewards don’t have to all be financial. Look for ways to include peer recognition programs and shout-outs for employees who prioritized the right efforts that led to the right results. With some teams, like Customer Support, customer quotes can also be used to highlight employees and showcase great customer experiences.

Team leaders may make recommendations for how to best incentivize and reward their employees. Innovation around customer experience is a key factor to stay ahead of the competition and continue to exceed customer expectations, so look for ways to encourage innovative ideas and exploratory CX initiatives.

The C-Suite should also participate in the communication of customer experience efforts and how they’re tied to overall organizational outcomes. For example, at an annual state of the business event, the CEO often discusses revenue, business wins, and employee awards. Those types of events should include CX-specific topics and celebrate what has worked for customers and employees.

Achieving a truly customer-centric culture means weaving customer experience into every part of the organization, including how employees are recognized and rewarded.

Step 2: Develop a customer-centric employee journey to ensure a truly customer-centric culture 

To ensure customer-centricity is truly a part of the long-term culture, the employee journey needs to be well-designed and incorporate CX into every step along the way.

Start with the job candidate experience. The job posting and role description should include specific customer experience sections. Organizational vision and values should be prominently included. Each role description should include CX goals. Employee development programs should include customer experience education along the employee journey.

Employee onboarding and team onboarding is another important first step in the employee journey. Invite new employees to sit in on CX team meetings, review customer feedback, and propose their own ideas for improving the customer journey.

Team leaders, as well as the Learning and Development team, can make recommendations for where to incorporate more CX-focused programs in each employee’s journey. The CX Strategic Council may want to apply some of these initiatives to the overall employee experience. These initiatives receive proper funding and use appropriate tools and technology to support them.

To learn more about employee journey mapping and employee experience, see our EX playbook.

Level 5   

What it looks like 

This is the North Star. At this final level, leaders in every area of the organization prioritize actions and projects that deliver on customer experience excellence. 

To earn leadership buy-in and funding, teams know that every proposal must connect to CX goals and business objectives. The employee journey is grounded in customer experience best practices and goals. Job descriptions, onboarding, and overall employee learning and development all have strong customer experience and strategic connections. CX is part of the DNA of the entire organization. 

At Level 5, gaining leadership buy-in is part of an organized process that relies on cross-functional collaboration and a robust CX strategy. Team leaders know they can propose customer-focused solutions to gain resources and support from the C-Suite. Executives sponsor these programs and have a clear understanding of what the return on investment is likely to be. 

Employees feel connected to the customer experience and rely on each other to do what’s right for the customer; they are eager to recognize and reward one another through peer nominations. 

You might hear employees make statements such as:

Today we’re presenting to the CX Strategic Council. Our proposal is a new approach to sourcing, hiring, and training new employees. We’re confident the Council will approve this plan because it checks all the boxes they look for when they’re considering investing in new CX initiatives. It’ll produce real business results by decreasing employee churn, boost customer-centricity, and it can be scaled efficiently with the right tools and teamwork. — Customer Success Manager

Where to go from here  

Leadership does change and evolve, and that means you must be prepared to change how you work toward gaining and maintaining leadership buy-in. It’s important to consider not just the process, but the people involved and what is most important to them.

To look to the future:

  • As new leaders join the organization, look for what’s most important to them as individuals. For example, one Chief Financial Officer may be focused on growth strategies. Another might be more interested in reducing costs.

  • Evolve customer-focused learning programs with how customer expectations change. A stagnant employee development program can stunt CX maturity.

  • Communicate often and ask for feedback from employees throughout the organization. Trust is a big part of buy-in, so ensure employees feel connected to the leadership and empowered to share the unvarnished truths they believe.

Leaders of any title want to achieve business results and empower employees to do so. Making a strong case for customer experience improvements should be music to a leader’s ears, as long as they understand the connection between CX efforts and real business results.

CONCLUSION

Closing thoughts

Getting leadership buy-in is all about sharing the right information and painting a picture of why it matters. 

As you take action, retake our maturity assessment to track your progress. Remember, you shouldn’t expect to make all major improvements at once—this is a slow process, but each change will add up to positively impact the quality of your customer experience program. 

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