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A Seat at the Table

Customer Experience is the heartbeat of every business. And yet businesses fail, time and time again, to meet customer expectations. According to a CEI study published in Forbes, only 1% of customers feel vendors consistently meet their expectations. Companies waste millions of dollars buying new customers (in fact, the entire customer install base is replaced every 5 years!) without focusing on simply retaining customers. Another great related quote from Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy and Mark Murphy: “A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%.”

Businesses strive to be like Southwest Airlines, like Starbucks, like Apple in creating a brand that intuitively knows what our customer wants… and then do nothing actionable to actually build this into the company culture. It’s an arduous task assigned to a department: HR should shape culture. Marketing should make our site look appealing. R&D should create a cool app. Operations should train front-line staff. However, what unifies these groups with a strategic direction?

Coming from a software background, I often saw companies think they were making a similar shift by ‘going Agile.’ They would quickly rip down the cube walls, hire a UX person, and pilot projects with aggressive deadlines while touting: now we get to rapidly adapt to change and we’ll finally get things done fast! But where the companies would fail is that they didn’t look at 1) why they were changing and 2) how people would adapt to change. Agile is not a methodology, it’s a culture. Customer experience isn’t a side project – it’s what defines an organization.

The role of the Chief Customer Officer is hardly known – only about 10% of the Fortune 500 have a CCO. And a Customer Experience team exists in very few organizations today. The challenge in defining new roles or teams is that no one is making room for them to have a seat at the table. The leadership of the CCO or CX team must come right from the top – and if this role or team is not the best friend of the CEO, it will be a constant struggle. Like the story of Sisyphus, the individual or team will be rolling an immense boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down, for an eternity (or until someone decides the role or team isn’t demonstrating value and therefore can be cut loose to move on (hopefully to another organization where they are supported from the top).

This story can have a happy ending. Companies are starting to see the light and the focus on being customer-centric, of understanding that what differentiates businesses is not price or product – but customer experience, delivered with top-notch service at every intersection between a customer and a company. Loyalty is alive and well. Are you giving it a seat at your table?

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