By Jeannie Walters, CEO, and founder of Experience Investigators™
Customer experience leadership is evolving. As more organizations invest in recruiting, hiring, and developing leaders with CX in their titles, many more professionals will be stepping into this leadership role for the first time.
For those of you taking on such a role, the first ninety days are a chance to set the proper foundation for success for both you and the organization. Here are steps to help you succeed in your new CX position.
Month 1: Make connections and set foundations
Successful customer experience leadership relies on several things at once, including:
The vision, values, and mission of the organization and how well they’re reflected in the culture
Cross-functional support and accountability around aspects of the customer journey
Feedback programs to collect the crucial customer information and insights
C-level support and buy-in for priorities and resources
It can be overwhelming to start with a list of priorities that all feel equally important. Take it one step at a time. Whatever you tackle first, remember that it’s vital to build cross-departmental relationships. That means no matter what project or priority you have, working with other leaders is key to making the customer experience a long-term strategy versus a short-term program.
Customer experience is not a solo endeavor. It takes leaders and teams throughout the organization to make it successful. In fact, according to the GetFeedback 2022 State of the CX Report, organizations with the most CX collaboration do enjoy greater ROI.
As you step into your new role, remember you are an ambassador for customer experience as a strategy and discipline.
Step 1: Define goals and priorities
Gather the vision and values statements for the organization. Find out what’s most important and prioritized. This will help define what success means. You can build your customer experience goals, priorities, and programs to align with organizational outcomes.
The vision and values of your organization can guide your ideals around what customer experience should look like throughout the customer journey. For example, if the organization's vision is something around providing value, consider what that means for customers. How do they define value? How do you know if you have delivered or not?
Organizational goals will define the most meaningful outcomes to your leaders. For example, if annual goals focus on increased efficiencies, that can direct your priorities around reducing friction for customers and those who serve them.
Step 2: Discover what customer feedback is collected and what happens to it
Many organizations don’t have a centralized customer feedback strategy. Customer Success might send an annual survey to customers, and Customer Service might collect transactional feedback after service interactions. The results of those surveys could be siloed. Ask other leaders what feedback they collect and where data lives.
There is usually a mix of metrics used to measure customer experience. Find out what metrics are used. Some organizations rely heavily on metrics like Net Promoter Score® (NPS), or Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), while others include a mix based on best practices. Get to know what’s happening, and start considering if there are better ways to measure customer experience in the future. There’s no magic metric or universal formula, so look for what will work best based on your specific goals, technology, and customers.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a team dedicated to data, or a robust, centralized Customer Data Platform (CDP), get to know the data analysts and others who can help you make sense of the data and analyze it for your CX goals. Ask for their guidance on what data is shared, understood, and prioritized already in the organization.
Step 3: Get to know your team. (Spoiler alert: it’s not just who reports to you!)
As you find answers to your questions, you’ll be relying on others to share what they know. This might include a team of direct reports. It’s essential to get to know them, what they are working on, and expectations for your new role.
Customer experience relies on the wisdom and accountability of many leaders throughout the organization. The C-suite needs to have a shared understanding of customer experience and the outcomes you’re seeking. Leaders throughout the organization need to help you make the improvements required to the customer journey identified in customer feedback.
Every employee needs to understand their role in delivering a superior customer experience. Building relationships and eventually introducing or reinforcing structures and governance around customer experience is a priority for any CX leader.
As you enter your second month, aim to feel prepared to take quick actions to align your CX vision with the organizational vision, values, and goals. Building relationships early in your journey will help you succeed more quickly.
Month 2: Define success
Now that you know what you need, it’s time to define your vision.
A corporate vision statement can sometimes be enough to guide your customer experience aspirations. But sometimes, those corporate statements don’t focus on the right people or goals. For example, a corporate vision statement might focus on being “best in class” or “providing shareholder value.” Those are hard to qualify as customer-focused at all.
I recommend creating a unique CX mission statement. The customer experience mission statement is a way to communicate a shared aspirational message for how to show up for customers, no matter what. It’s not about your products, services, or customer feedback. It’s about what promise you are making to customers inside your organization.
Creating a CX mission can be as simple as answering five questions:
What’s our brand promise?
What’s in it for the customer?
What experience can we deliver?
What do we want our customers to feel?
How will our mission tie to our products and process?
The CX mission statement is not supposed to be eight paragraphs with multiple bullets. And it should exclude corporate lingo. The idea is to have a statement that’s easy to communicate and internalize.
Now that you have your aspirational statement, it’s time to get down to business
Once you know what is aspirational for your customers and their journey, it’s time to shift your focus to defining what a superior customer experience will do for the success of your organization.
Ironically, this is often overlooked. You may have stepped into a role where they have defined customer experience success as, “Delivering a seamless customer journey” or something else that sounds nice but is hard to define.
Challenge yourself and your colleagues to define success well enough to answer the question: How will we know we were successful a year from now?
Avoid generalizations like goals that focus on something hard to define. For example, it’s not uncommon to see goals like, “Provide friendly customer service,” or “Deliver an exceptional customer experience every time.” Those are fine aspirations, but they aren’t actual goals.
Some customer experience goals are tactics instead of focusing on strategic outcomes. For example, launching a new survey or providing a better way to collect customer feedback might be important as part of a bigger goal. But stating “launch a survey” as a goal isn’t really about an outcome. It’s a tool and a step to get to the desired result. As you define CX goals, tie these tactical steps to strategic outcomes. In this example, you might say, “Launch an annual survey to measure loyalty with NPS and drive higher retention and renewal rates.”
Don’t forget to define success according to your organizational goals, too. Customer experience should never be on an island. Define CX outcomes based on a strategic vision and align with the outcomes most important to your leaders and overall organizational success.
Customer experience success is so ill-defined in most organizations that it can be constructive to spend time getting this part right. I recommend formalizing your goals by creating a CX success statement.
A CX success statement identifies:
What specific outcomes will be most meaningful
How those specific outcomes tie back to larger organizational goals and leadership goals
The metrics you’ll use to measure success
The realistic parameters you’ll define success within
To create your CX success statement, think about a simple formula:
Organizational goals + leadership goals = specific outcomes
In some ways, the CX success statement continues to help you build relationships and ensure leaders see customer experience as a real business opportunity that requires discipline like any other part of the business.
Can you imagine if the Sales team had a goal to “Do sales well”? Of course not. They are asked to define goals like what percentage of growth they hope to achieve and what steps are required to get there.
Customer experience requires this same business-focused approach. Don’t let goals like, “Deliver great service,” be enough for your definition of success. Get specific, and show how achieving CX-focused goals will drive the right outcomes for the entire organization.
Watch for signals to guide you
At this point, you should be reviewing whatever customer feedback data and other data is available to you. Watch for patterns, signals, and indicators that can help you prioritize. For example, you may notice that CSAT scores are not where they should be for a specific transactional point in the journey over eight weeks.
While you may not know what’s happening yet or how to address it, that’s a signal to watch. Are there ways to get more information? For example, one leader I knew spent a few days simply working with customer-facing teams to listen to what they were hearing. She spent two days listening to contact center conversations, interviewing agents directly to learn their perspectives, and reviewing real-time customer feedback.
She then sat in with the Customer Success team to determine what current customers were experiencing. She also spent time with analysts to truly understand where and what was being measured. She identified that while NPS and CSAT were measured regularly, there was an opportunity to use Customer Effort Score (CES) to measure goals around self-service for customers more readily.
Finally, she asked her Data Analysts what data they would review if they were in her shoes. By reaching out proactively and asking for input and wisdom, she built important relationships and identified what priorities were aligned to help her define success. She used this information to build her CX success statement and get the rest of the executive team on board with her vision.
Month 3: Build your team of champions
At about the sixty-day mark, you will have an idea of what you’ll need to accomplish and how to best prioritize your efforts for success. But you can’t do this on your own. You need to start adding some structure, governance, and teamwork to accomplish all you want in the coming months.
With your aspirational mission and well-defined goals, you have the right tools to prioritize and gain momentum. Now it’s time to build a cross-functional team to help you take action on what you’ve identified.
A cross-functional team focused on customer experience can help the organization do many things. Most groups focus on ways to centralize efforts around the right priorities. Here are a few considerations as you build your CX team.
Question 1: What are the known priorities?
That can help you determine who to invite to the team. For example, suppose moving customer data to a centralized place is a priority. In that case, it’s critical to include technology leaders, data analysts, and CX or research analysts who can help design feedback strategy, deploy the right tools, and evaluate customer data on an ongoing basis. Consider what teams and leaders will help you with what’s most important.
Question 2: What will be the criteria for ranking priorities?
It’s easy to say everything is essential when it comes to customer experience. This team will be there to align on what the top priorities for customer experience improvement efforts are, based on both organizational and customer needs. If leaders are there to “defend their turf” and just represent their individual needs, the right priorities won’t be identified.
Share what criteria will be used as you extend invitations. For example, you may want to use alignment with the CX mission statement and the CX success statement as a criterion to rank priorities. Share that information as you build this team, and ask for more insights on what other criteria could be used.
Question 3: Which leaders need to empower their teams to deliver on CX?
While every employee needs to see how their role impacts the customer experience, some employees are already interacting with and serving customers every day. These customer-facing teams are ironically excluded from high-level decision-making.
Build a team that includes leaders like contact center managers and field sales leaders. Include these leaders early and encourage two-way communication to keep a finger on the pulse of shifting customer expectations and empower these teams to share ideas to improve the customer journey.
Introduce a CX team charter
One of the best practices in project management is to have a team or project charter. This document clearly articulates the goals, desired outcomes, and expectations of those working on a project. Introduce a CX team charter to define the expectations of this team, including how often you’ll meet, what roles and responsibilities each team member have, and how decisions will be made. This documentation will help you communicate in more effective ways and build coalitions with the original team members and anyone you add to the team. Read my article for more information.
Create a CX priority master
It can be easy to fall into the habits of any organization. Leaders are asked to focus on their departmental goals, leading to fractured efforts based on what Marketing, Product, or Operations teams prioritize. It helps to have the criteria clearly articulated and listed in a centralized master document.
This priority list guides the team to set priorities, track actionable outcomes, and hold various groups accountable. By reporting and discussing this, the CX team is showing the importance of action and not just talking about it.
Educate and communicate
Throughout your time as a CX leader, you’ll want to find ways to provide and encourage ongoing education. You also want to work with internal communications teams to share what is happening to focus on customer experience. Even more importantly, you’ll want to socialize your findings and provide updates to leadership throughout the organization.
Many CX leaders don’t have a budget or resources dedicated to these efforts. There are still ways to spread the word and empower others.
Here are a few creative activities to try:
Host “lunch and learn” sessions or virtual workshops to educate on CX topics like metrics, the customer journey, or customer feedback insights. Better yet, encourage your team members to host these, as well
Work with your internal communications team to find ways to introduce important CX messaging in regular communications. Once the CX mission is defined, introduce that through a series of communications. Invite others to submit how they are living the mission
Recognize leaders and teams who are positively impacting the customer journey. This can be a formal program or something more informal, where you send an email or create a short video explaining why you think they deserve recognition
Share actual customer feedback that showcases what dedicated efforts have improved. Simple quotes or video testimonials are powerful ways to communicate how efforts inside the organization directly impact customers on the outside of the organization
Invite ideas and feedback from other leaders. CX is a team effort, so include the team early and often
Your first 90 days are the foundation of success
There is no perfect formula for your first ninety days as a customer experience leader. You may have inherited a great team with outstanding goals already. Or you may be asked to build your team from the ground up.
Whatever you walk into on that first day, remember that these early steps should be all about getting a foundation of success for your organization, and your customers. The best way to ensure you will make progress is to know what that progress leads to ideally.
Most leaders want to support these goals. Include your colleagues to set the stage for a collaborative and empowering experience.
There’s always a lot to tackle as a CX leader. By taking it one step at a time and continuously measuring progress, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to celebrate that success as you reach those milestones.