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Tough Love and the Customer Experience Culture

Published: Jan 25, 2018
Author: Cary Cusumano

Tough love.  It’s one of the hardest things for a parent to give.  When you care for someone and want to see them become the best they can be, you want to guide them toward avoiding “the easy way out” even if you know that might result in hurt feelings.  You wrestle with how to balance the consequences of possibly putting a bruise on your relationship versus the bruises they may get by learning through experience. 

I’ve often found myself engaged in this same wrestling match as a customer experience professional.  When I meet with large enterprise clients who want to build a better experience for their customers, I start with getting my hands on customer feedback, also known as Voice of the Customer (VoC) information available through several online sources where customers post their reviews.  Information can also be gathered from public news articles, or even from coworkers and neighbors who have had recent experiences with that company.  That information is the single best indicator of whether a client truly “walks the walk” of creating a great customer experience or if they are simply “checking the boxes.”

I recently found myself reviewing the VoC information of a large technology company that proudly promotes “digital transformation” solutions to improve customer experience.  There’s no doubt advances in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and chatbots are rapidly and radically changing businesses’ abilities to empower customers to take the lead in navigating their end-to-end journey.  However, those abilities can often be stifled through misaligned motives and an underlying corporate culture of customer apathy. 

In reading this VoC information, I found comments like “they claimed someone would call me and yet no one calls” and “hard to get to a rep” and “I didn't get an answer back.”  Recurring patterns of comments like these should set off alarms for any company that has a genuine concern for customer experience.  After all, how can you expect to earn the trust of your customers by deploying the latest type of intelligent virtual assistant when you fail to keep the simple promise of returning a phone call? 

While technology can provide a means to eliminate the friction in many of the routine transactions along a customer’s journey, the reality is that many companies look at automation not so much as a way to empower customers, but simply as a way to cut costs.  Sadly, they see returning that phone call not as a promise kept, but as a cost.  Their pursuit of automated solutions belies a culture that is entirely inwardly focused, not customer focused. 

As a customer experience professional, how do you share the tough love necessary to advise a business on its fundamental cultural issues without dissuading them from their valid, if misguided, pursuit of technologies that enable them to scale their customer experience efforts?  After all, both must work together, but in the proper order – technology cannot fix a broken customer experience culture, but can make a healthy one even stronger.  Here are some things to consider:

Find a champion.  Chances are, the organization responsible for customer experience is already well aware of the issues but lacks the support to convince a management team that is in denial or worse, apathetic.  It’s been said ‘you can’t read the label of the jar you’re in’.  You need to find a partner in the organization who has the courage to share the outside view of what’s on that label objectively and unapologetically.

Lead with VoC.  You’ll need to provide your own expert analysis, but the first commentary your audience should hear is that of their customers.  They can argue with your interpretation, but will find it much harder to dispute what customers are actually telling them.

Persevere.  You will be told “that is a one-off” and “but look at our customer service awards.”  These are deflections.  Continue to provide insights and expand your audience to include additional champions.  Corporate cultures don’t change overnight, and the rate of change is inversely proportional to the size of the company.

 Most activities a customer experience professional engages in – journey mapping, VoC analysis, metrics assessment – are great ways to share meaningful customer insights.  But when you get to assessing corporate customer experience culture, especially your own, it can get personal.  To question the effectiveness of performance is one thing, but when you call out the differences between someone’s stated beliefs and how they truly act – whether an individual or a corporate entity – you are labeling them a hypocrite.  It’s tough love, but they need to hear it, because actions speak louder than words, especially when customer loyalty is at stake.


About the author:
A 2016 CX Impact Award winner from the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), Cary Cusumano is a Customer Experience and Design Thinking practitioner in Verizon Enterprise Solutions. He is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.