CX should be a core competency, not an organizational practice

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This article originally appeared on CMO.com

As more companies recognize the importance of enhancing customer experience to drive business benefits, many create a CX practice and consider how to make it most effective in their organizations. Our answer surprises some: Don’t.

Instead, make a customer-centric approach a required competency across all of your business lines and functional groups. In other words, develop your commitment to the customer experience as a horizontal, not a vertical.

Today is, CX Day, so there’s no better time to examine the best ways to handle customer experience at an organization.

Pitfalls Of The ‘Practice’
When CX is a practice, it’s supposed to set the vision and advocate for customer-centricity. However, bringing that vision to life isn’t easy when decision-making—and budgets—are dispersed in marketing, the product groups, or operations. That gives the CX practice an immense responsibility without the authority or wherewithal to drive real change.

Embracing a culture of customer-centricity requires three essential steps:

1. Start at the top: When the executive team shares the vision and mandate, your approach and commitment are consistently reinforced. Having a VP of CX alone isn’t going to do it; it’s everyone’s job on the leadership team.

2. Embed the experts: True CX experts (in user experience, content strategy, plain language writing, and interaction design) can have the greatest impact when they’re integrated into the functional teams that control the initiatives and their budgets.

3. Stick to your knitting: Craft a governance structure that maximizes everyone’s core capabilities, meaning the CX experts make decisions about the CX. That sounds obvious until you think about how often the technology team drives decisions about site navigation or the legal team opines about what language is clearer. Make sure roles, responsibilities, and decision-making authority are clearly and logically defined.

Companies with the simplest customer experience have a development and governance process where subject-matter experts contribute their knowledge but the CX expert integrates all of those business requirements into a customer-focused experience.

Get Started
If a shared vision and a shared mandate among the leadership team are the foundation of the necessary infrastructure, then you’ve got to get them there. An immersion—done workshop-style—is a great place to start. Hijack your leadership team for a day and use CX experts to facilitate, emerging from the workshop with:

  • A common understanding of your goals and the way you define a good customer experience for your organization.
  • A personal commitment from all senior leaders to champion a customer-centric approach in their areas of responsibility.
  • Tangible next steps that will help move you from platitudes to best practices.

Set Reasonable Goals
Even with the right organizational structure, companies still often underestimate the time and resources required for real transformation of the customer experience, particularly in terms of data availability. One of the most powerful aspects of a great customer experience is true personalization; depending on your starting point, the resources in terms of time and budget can be substantial.

The other major risk is simply taking on too much at one time, so the efforts become diluted or you lose momentum when you don’t see progress throughout a multiyear effort.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and there are always incremental or phased improvements you can achieve along the way. But be realistic about your timeline and align your public pronouncements with it. That’s another lurking risk, and one that can damage your credibility: If you’re publicly trumpeting your “customer-first” promise, but the reality is still quite different in major steps along the customer journey, you seem disingenuous and disconnected from what customers really experience.

Keep in mind …

  • Build the right infrastructure with the highest-level support and true CX capabilities embedded in your working teams.
  • Be realistic about the pace of true transformation and invest in fewer initiatives that you can actually do very well.
  • Be frank about what you have and have not achieved. It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver.

That’s what surprises and delights customers.

Maria Boos is group director, simplification at Siegel+Gale.

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