Companies that keep a steady pulse on the voice of the customer across all touchpoints, are the ones that can turn the always-evolving customer expectations into great experiences. And in doing so, maximize customer satisfaction and improve the bottom line.
This concept is easy to comprehend, but it’s fairly difficult to execute under the circumstances that most customer experience (CX) leaders find themselves in: siloed and often insufficient customer data, misalignment across departments regarding CX strategy, lack of technology infrastructure, and the list goes on.
The root cause of many of these challenges is the way a company is structured and how it operates. Perhaps the current setup doesn’t enable the type of collaboration required to translate customer-centric strategies into tangible tasks. Or employees don’t have access to the training they need to support the new needs of their customers. Whatever it may be, the solution, in most cases, is adapting to a cross-functional CX program.
A cross-functional CX program
A cross-functional team is a group of people with different expertise, most-likely from different departments and levels within an organization, that are all working toward a common goal.
A cross-functional CX program is a program that operates across business units and departments with the common goal of delivering the best customer experience possible.
This is the ideal state for any CX program: With cross-functional leadership, operations and governance, you will break down silos, work through inefficiencies, and create a cohesive and seamless experience for customers and employees.
Although the high-level goal remains the same (to meet or exceed customer expectations), how a cross-functional CX program looks within a company can vary drastically based on resources, current structure and specific goals. Keep this in mind as you read through the recommendations in the following chapters—there isn’t one right way of setting up your cross-functional program.
Quick note: To bring you the best advice possible, we partnered with CX experts Jeannie Walters and Annette Franz on this guide. The following is a cohesive collection of our knowledge.
The four cross-functional program elements
There are four key elements to consider for your cross-functional CX program:
Governance: operational model
Talent & skill sets
Each one plays a critical role individually and collectively. Whether you start by just focusing on one, two or all four elements, remember that they’re interdependent—if one lacks maturity, it will negatively impact the other areas.
The consecutive chapters will address each element in detail.
A CX program charter
A cross-functional customer experience program requires a strong foundation or it will easily fall apart. That’s why you start with a charter.
A CX program charter is a concise document that defines the necessary customer experience strategy for your company, as well as the roles, responsibilities, timelines and expected outcomes.
If you’re the CX leader in your company, this charter is your responsibility. However, you should definitely consult with other key stakeholders in the development phase.
Your charter will most likely differ from another company’s, due to specific workflow, business requirements and organizational structure. However, it should still include the following sections.
Customer experience vision
What is the ideal outcome for your customer experience?
This vision should lead all efforts around delivering this ideal experience for your customers. Make sure to keep it brief and about the customer. Disney, for example, has a customer experience vision that is short and meaningful: “We create happiness.”
CX goals and objectives
Your goals might include reducing customer effort, or increasing customer happiness to optimize referrals. Objectives should serve these goals.
For example, if your goal is to reduce obstacles to customer success, leading to fewer inbound customer service calls and overall improved Customer Satisfaction Scores, then your objective could be to reduce customer service calls by 2% within 12 months. Another objective could be to improve customer satisfaction by 5% overall.
CX roles and responsibilities
To provide accountability and induce action around these goals and objectives, a governance structure, typically in the form of committees, is necessary.
For these committees, define roles around both strategy and tactics, so that every member has a specific outcome they’re responsible for.
Customer experience is a business strategy but it’s also a mindset. The best charters begin as a way to define these traits in an organization, but the best organizations begin to show these traits and the charter becomes a reflection of them. — Jeannie Walters
Customer experience prioritization
The cross-functional CX committees may be involved in voting for or discussing specific items, but having a framework for these decisions is key. Aim for a balance of customer value and company value to determine your priorities.
Your prioritization should also tie back to the CX vision and overall goals for your company. Other factors to keep in mind include resources and budget available to you.
Certain leaders in your company won’t be part of your CX committees but they’ll still need to be involved. To identify your stakeholders, ask yourself: Who should be included in communications and insights from the committees? Who needs to be informed? What can these stakeholders do to help your CX strategy become truly cross-functional?
Define in your charter who the stakeholders are, what they can expect from your committee, as well as what you’d like to expect from them.
Cross-functional CX logistics
There are quite a few logistics to think through before and while running your cross-functional CX program. Start by brainstorming what you can. Here are some questions to help you get started:
What roles will be on your core CX team?
Will you be expanding your CX committees in the future? If so, what are the appropriate ways to do that?
What is the cadence of meetings and communications? Who is responsible for those communications?
Are there specific deadlines, timeframes or milestones to consider?
How will you introduce this charter across your organization? What sort of specific communications are required?
What is required for input and suggestions from across the company? Should you set up a formal feedback loop?
Once your CX program charter is ready, here are several ways to use it to foster cross-collaboration:
Use the charter as the north star in decision-making around customer experience. For example, ask team members to align requests with the charter.
Review the charter with anyone joining your CX cross-functional team. The charter establishes a shared language across the organization.
Share the charter with leaders throughout your company. Ask for their buy-in and support.
Use the charter as a lens for reviewing customer feedback; this will help to highlight what is most important to customers and what requires your attention first.
Remember that your CX program charter is a living document that should evolve with your company, the brand and the customer’s journey.
For more, check out: How to Create a CX Program Charter.
From a business standpoint, governance is defined as “the establishment of policies, and continuous monitoring of their proper implementation, by the members of the governing body of an organization. It includes the mechanisms required to balance the powers of the members (with the associated accountability), and their primary duty of enhancing the prosperity and viability of the organization.”
In the customer experience realm, governance consists of structure and an operational model. Structure focuses on defining the governing body and establishing policies that enhance the prosperity of the company.
Specifically, it includes clearly-defined cross-functional roles and responsibilities for making decisions, taking action, implementing change, as well as setting oversight and accountability.
Structure often stands in the form of committees or teams, however you’d like to call these groups. Each committee, which should be cross-functional when possible to avoid siloed efforts, is focused on achieving the company’s CX goals.
A cross-functional CX program might contain the following committees:
Core CX Team
The illustration below by CX Journey demonstrates how these committees interact under the governance structure. Keep in mind that this is one way of structuring your program—not the only way. Use the insight in this chapter to help guide the structure that makes most sense to you.
A key stakeholder that isn't represented in this illustration is the CEO—they should sit at the top, right above the Executive Committee. Their support is extremely important for any CX program to be a success.
Having the right structure in place ensures that you’ll have that grassroots involvement among employees–a groundswell of sorts–to create and to perpetuate the culture, the customer experience, and the employee experience you’re working to achieve. — Annette Franz
The Executive Committee should consist of key executives in your business; this can include department heads, business unit heads, and other business leaders deemed essential to successful outcomes. This committee has the oversight for all the work being done in the cross-functional CX program. They track, prioritize, and approve improvement plans provided by the various committees and stakeholders.
The Executive Sponsors can be a duo—a separate sponsor to champion customer experience (CX) and one for employee experience (EX). Usually these roles fall with the Chief Customer Officer (CCO) or Vice President of CX, and with the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Vice President of People/Culture. The sponsors guide their respective teams to socialize and operationalize the CX strategy while at the same time championing for their constituents.
The Core CX Team designs and implements the underlying customer understanding work that informs the CX strategy. The work that they do feeds, informs, and supports the other committees. We’ll go over the specific skill sets needed for this team in chapter six.
While other committees might not be fully cross-functional, the CX Champions must include a representative from each department—this allows for all department voices to be heard. Members focus on CX improvements and changes that must originate or occur in their respective business areas.
The Culture Committee is a diverse, cross-functional group that has a ground-level view of how things work in the company. Their job is to identify, discuss, and plan ways to promote and drive the desired customer-centric culture.
While each committee has a specific purpose, representatives from each committee should still meet regularly to provide updates and work together when programs overlap.
Lastly, and this might sound counterintuitive, but even your governance structure needs to be flexible and agile. If over time you find that the current committee setup doesn’t work, it’s OK to make adjustments as long as they align with the demands of the CX environment.
For more, read: Governance Structure: How to Take Your CX Team Cross-Functional.
Governance: operational model
The second element of governance is an operational model. While governance structure primarily defines the roles and responsibilities, the operational model helps drive the execution of the CX strategy. It does so by identifying and prioritizing the measures and processes that will aid your company to reach its shared CX goal(s).
The operational model can include:
Automation to reduce friction and overlap
The socialization and operationalization of insights
A prioritization of improvement initiatives.
The development of new business processes
The definition of success metrics
An outline of the decision-making process
The definition of the communication plan
To determine the ideal success metrics and prioritizations for your cross-functional CX program, you need to do a full audit of your customer journey. This means identifying the weaknesses in your customer journey that, if improved, will lead to higher customer satisfaction and better business performance.
Once you know which touchpoints need adjustments, you can select the CX metrics that will best serve you in the process of collecting feedback during the implementation of these change. Choose wisely—they will aid the measurement of your program’s success. Over time, you should also be able to connect some of these metrics to ROI.
Strive for as much automation as possible when sending out surveys to your customers. This will reduce friction with competing efforts, overlap, and eliminate survey fatigue. Plus, it’ll be easier for your teams to manage feedback data in small doses.
The easiest way to democratize and analyze customer feedback data is by organizing all insights into one dashboard that’s easily shared with relevant stakeholders. This provides a single source of truth to keep your teams aligned.
Furthermore, pushing real-time customer feedback to a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, like Salesforce, means you can connect valuable insights to customer profiles so your teams always know where every account stands. This means they can take proper action on time-sensitive feedback and track each customer’s experience over time. For more on this, read our guide on how to run a CX program with Salesforce.
B Cellars Vineyards and Winery, a GetFeedback customer, runs a cross-functional CX program that relies heavily on the seamless integration of customer data in Salesforce. Here is a glimpse into their operational model captured from our interview with Graham Clark, the company’s CX leader and GetFeedback CX Ambassador:
“The Board of Managers sets our service standards that frame our CX policies, expectations, and processes around a unified goal. I manage the back-end, technology side of things including design, deployment, data capture, initiatives, and planning.
Our concierge kicks off the whole process by inputting visitation data into Salesforce, triggering the survey emails. Our management team monitors and reviews all incoming responses, both good and bad, and responds to any negative reviews or comments. Our sales staff monitors feedback from customers that they had direct interaction with and responds to each customer who takes the time to complete the survey.”
There is a lot that goes into the operational model of your CX program. To avoid overwhelming your team, it helps to remember that the ultimate goal of the operational model is to enable greater customer centricity and agility within the company.
Talent and skill sets
To maximize the end-to-end customer experience, companies need to rely on a diverse set of capabilities. This means recruiting external talent, but also ensuring that existing employees receive real-time and personalized learning as part of the cross-functional CX program implementation.
We’ll go over two primary talents: the CX leader and the Core CX Team.
The CX leader
The best customer experience leader can demonstrate the why behind customer experience and clearly connect it to the how. Getting all other leaders within the company to act in accordance with the CX strategy, requires certain processes that fall in line with the customer experience vision.
Here are some examples of the key responsibilities that the CX leader should own:
Creating and communicating a strong customer experience vision.
Defining and designing the appropriate leadership roles.
Empowering leaders throughout the organization to work towards customer experience outcomes.
Aligning the entire organization around one customer experience strategy.
Understanding the entire customer journey.
Developing the right customer experience measurement program.
Gathering customer feedback in a centralized and meaningful way for both the brand and the customer.
Turning feedback into actions that improve the customer journey.
Involving customers beyond surveys.
Proactively designing experiences around innovation.
The Core CX Team
Not two Core CX Teams are alike. There are many factors, like business size or executive commitment, that determine whether there is a team of one or of 50. Also, in some circumstances, the Core CX Team itself is cross-functional, while in others, there is an actual designated department.
However, there are some commonalities. This team typically reports to the Chief Customer Officer (CCO) or the Vice President of CX. And, regardless of the size and structure of the team, the key responsibilities and desirable skill sets don’t change.
This team comprises the staff that does the critical underlying work to ensure that the customer experience solves problems for customers and meets their needs.
At a high level, the Core CX Team does the following and more:
Develop, implement, and manage tools, and processes to understand customers.
Monitor and measure performance against customer expectations.
Co-create and design new experiences with customers.
Centralize, analyze, and synthesize customer feedback and data.
Identify metrics to track and ensure those metrics are linked to business outcomes.
Share insights from customer understanding tools throughout the organization.
Provide tools and guidance to support improvement initiatives and to help drive change.
Develop the strategy to achieve the desired and intended customer experience.
Prepare internal and external communications about the work that is being done.
Drive clarity of expectations, consistency of experiences, and education of colleagues around the experience to be delivered.
To accomplish this, below are the key skill sets that your team should embody:
Market research: survey research and questionnaire design, measurement, metrics, statistics, data collection methods, report and dashboard design, sampling, interviewing and qualitative methods, and managing budgets.
Analytical and critical thinking: developing these insights starts with observation, analysis, and interpretation skills, along with a knowledge of data lakes, data warehouses, data science, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, statistics, basic and advanced analytical methods, and more. Building the business case and ROI modeling fall into this bucket.
Problem-solving: analytical and critical thinking skills, team building, collaboration, communication, decision-making, creativity, and more.
Design: from survey design to design thinking and experience design. The important thing to note about this skillset is that we need open-mindedness, creativity, and innovation to rule the day.
Change management: leadership skills, vision for the future state, communication skills, analysis and planning, teamwork and collaboration, the ability to influence others, and education skills.
Communication: great listeners, speakers, and storytellers. There is knowledge on how to formulate thoughts into a presentation or how to argue a point in a discussion or debate.
Relationship-building: collaboration, communication, working together, partnerships, and breaking down or connecting silos can only lead to a better experience for employees and customers.
Leadership: this team must be made up of leaders in every sense of the word when it comes to customer experience: model, reinforce, teach, coach, mentor, advise, support, etc.
Entrepreneurial: business-minded, autonomous, and a self-starter. It also includes the ability to translate ideas and insights into action.
For more, read our article: How to Build a Multi-Skilled CX Team.
Challenges with cross-functional CX programs
While establishing a cross-functional CX team will help solve a lot of CX challenges, it doesn’t mean it won’t come with it’s own hurdles.
With competing priorities and various accountabilities for each individual team member, gaining traction as one unit is not easy. There are common challenges for many cross-functional teams, but if you’re aware of them early on, you can prepare to tackle them before they become a major roadblock.
Below are the top 10 most common challenges.
Challenge no. 1: Misunderstood purpose
Many cross-functional teams are thrown together without a clear definition of what they’re expected to do. Not having a clear, well-communicated purpose makes everything difficult: The team members won’t agree on priorities, they won’t understand their roles, and will generally feel frustrated with the process. This can easily be prevented with a well-done CX program charter.
Challenge no. 2: No accountability structure
A cross-functional CX team needs to define how it will turn real-time customer insights into actions. Will there be liaisons with various department heads to show the reason for the requests? Will there be accountability within the cross-functional team itself, or will stakeholders and sponsors need to help with accountability? Answer those questions first to avoid the challenge of no accountability at all.
Challenge no. 3: No personal accountability
If serving on the cross-functional team is a strictly voluntary, a no-risk position, it’s easy to let those responsibilities slide. The best cross-functional teams have real roles and real accountabilities. That’s why a governance structure and operational model composed of committees and success metrics is so key.
Challenge no. 4: Misalignment around organizational goals
Make sure you are connecting your desired outcomes with the most important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the company itself. These can also change, based on annual, quarterly or even monthly goals. Part of leading the cross-functional team should include connecting these important pieces together.
Challenge no. 5: Too few check-ins
Most likely, each member of your cross-functional CX program will have daily duties and responsibilities that are part of their “day-job” and are not connected to the CX initiatives. To make sure the program doesn’t become a distance memory, set up frequent check-ins.
Challenge no. 6: Lack of diversity
Your team should include members at all levels of leadership. Beyond that, if your team doesn’t include people of different ethnicities, genders, and ages, you’re missing the unique outlooks that could better serve your customers.
Challenge no. 7: Limiting visibility
If your cross-functional team hoards its information, then you’ll miss the opportunity to gain buy-in and support along the way. Providing visibility into the insights, actions and outcomes should be one of the goals of a cross-functional CX program.
Challenge no. 8: Working long-term only
The best teams tackle both long-term and short-term issues for customers. Running a cross-functional CX program will help solve challenges, but only if you look for ways to balance the long-term with the short-term problems.
Challenge no. 9: Not including customers
“Invite” customers to the process by reviewing their open-ended feedback from the surveys they took time to fill out, or play a recording from a call center. Staying close to the true voice of the customer helps your team internalize customers' needs and practice empathy while deciding on those next actions.
Challenge no. 10: Not evolving best practices
Customer experience changes constantly. Your customer expectations, the marketplace and even your competitor’s experience dictates the customer journey every day. Teams should be flexible enough to adapt and shift in goals and best practices.
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