TALKING is easy. STARTING is harder….. but SUSTAINING is the hardest Customer Experience challenge of all!

CX Challenge

Do you work for an organisation that aspires to ‘put the customer first’? Have you listened to senior leaders in your business talk about the importance of ‘being customer centric?’ Does your company have a ‘value’, or ‘vision’ or ‘mission’ that makes reference to ‘focusing on the customer’? How many of you work for companies that have actually STARTED to DO any of those things? How many of you work for businesses that have SUSTAINED those things over a long period of time? How many of you are confident that your organisation will be able to SUSTAIN the approach indefinitely in the future?

This may not sound like the most positive of starts to a blog post, yet the sentiment is likely to resonate with many. Over the last twenty years, I have worked in a variety of organisations across multiple industries who have all TALKED a very good game when it comes to being customer focused. If I had a Pound or Euro or Dollar for every senior leader who has uttered the words – ‘we want to put the customer at the heart of everything we do’ – I would have a nice little pile of cash! However, of all the businesses I have worked for, the overwhelming minority have been able to get to the ultimate state when it comes to actually being customer focused – the ultimate state that enables that organisation to SUSTAIN a continuous approach to actually being customer centric. Achieving a sustained approach to Customer Experience is without question (in my opinion), the greatest Customer Experience challenge of them all.


Talking about Customer Experience is EASY. Literally anyone can do it. In a world where a significant number of working people still state that Customer Experience is a little ‘soft and fluffy’, those same people will still stand up and state how important it is for their business to put the customer at the centre of decision making. However, the startling reality is that there is still an overwhelming number of examples of organisations who are absolutely NOT putting the customer at the centre of everything they do – these tend to be businesses who are either very product centric, or shareholder centric or both.

I have worked with companies like this – I am sure you have (or do) too. It is so frustrating to walk into an overtly ‘non’ customer focused business who have banners or posters prominently TALKING about how  the customer is at the centre of their universe. TALKING about Customer Experience is EASY – but just TALKING about it means nothing if you do not actually do anything about it.

start cx

Many business who talk about Customer Experience have not even STARTED to do anything about it. If this sounds like a strange statement to make, you would not be wrong. Although ALL businesses are delivering customer experiences today (whether they are conscious of it or not), a huge number of them have very little idea of how capable they are of delivering an experience that meets and potentially exceeds the expectations of their customers. Some of these organisations do not even have clarity of understanding who their customers are in the first place. What makes this even more remarkable is that a large number of these companies are the ones who are TALKING about the importance of being customer focused!!

STARTING to introduce and embed a customer focused culture into a business, whatever size that business may be, is HARD. The reality is that to START actually being customer centric, an organisation must acknowledge that it may not actually be customer centric in the first place. That is why the transition from TALKING to STARTING is HARD. Acknowledging the need to be more customer centric is an incrediblly positive thing – it opens up a wealth of opportunity. However, acknowledging the need for improvement is sadly seen by many business leaders as an acknowledgement of failure – which may explain why these leaders may not think they have a problem in the first place.

Businesses that TALK about being customer focused but who do not know what their customers actually think of them must stop TALKING about it and START to understand how to actually do it – it is a big step, which is why STARTING is often a HARD thing to do.

sustain cx

Yet like most things in life, STARTING something is not nearly as HARD as finishing the thing you have started. In fact STARTING something that should in theory have no end to it is even HARDER. When it comes to Customer Experience, an organisation’s ability to SUSTAIN its approach to Customer Experience INDEFINITELY is without question the HARDEST challenge of them all.

I consider myself very fortunate to be working in a rapidly growing profession.  The fact that more and more businesses all over the world are not just TALKING about Customer Experience, but are now wanting to know how to START doing something about it is a hugely positive thing. However, the sad reality is that there are still painfully few examples of businesses who are seen as guiding lights – organisations who have so successfully embedded a customer centric culture that they have continuously SUSTAINED an approach to customer centricity over many years. That is why we often hear the same companies cited over and over again in benchmarking studies and Customer Experience Research as being true leaders in the field.

I recently published my own research into ‘what makes the worlds #1 CX brands‘ – brands such as Disney, John Lewis, Amazon, First Direct and Apple – were all in the top ten of companies considered as the #1 when it comes to delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. This was not a surprise to anyone – these companies are regularly named in similar studies. My research also highlighted WHY these companies are people’s #1:

  • Corporate attitude
  • They’re easy to do business with
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem
  • The attitude of their people
  • Personalisation
  • The product or service
  • They’re consistent
  • The way it makes me feel
  • The way they treat me
  • They’re reliable
  • They do what they promise
  • They’re quick
  • The technical knowledge of their people

The common characteristics of these organisations are characteristics required by companies who will have an ability to SUSTAIN a focus on the customer. Led by the attitude of the business, corporate culture is absolutely critical in SUSTAINING the TALK. Yet all of the characteristics highlighted in my research need to be SUSTAINED for a business to remain truly customer centric indefinitely.

SUSTAINING an approach to Customer Experience is without question the hardest challenge of them all. I am aware of a number of companies who STARTED to focus on it, but have since changed their focus. I have said many times in the past that Customer Experience is for life, not just for Christmas – our businesses exist to serve our customers – without them, we do not have a business. Whilst this is one of the most obvious statements of all time, why is it that too many businesses fail to recognise the significance of the statement?  The absolute key to SUSTAINABILITY is to embed Customer Experience so deeply in the culture of a company that it is not reliant on any one individual or group of people to SUSTAIN itself.

Customer Experience is the responsibility of everyone in an organisation. Everyone needs to TALK about it, START doing it and KEEP doing it to SUSTAIN it for evermore. Sounds so EASY – but in reality, it is so HARD to do!

‘Thank You’! The two most important ‘Customer Experience’ words of all

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‘Thank You’. Two little words. Two words containing a total of eight letters. As a parent you spend most of your life teaching your children to use the words regularly. As a child, you are constantly reminded of their importance. It is unlikely you have ever looked up the dictionary definition of ‘thank you’ – so I have done so for you – you can thank me later:

1. (adjective)

expressing one’s gratitude or thanks: a thank-you note.
2. (noun)

an expression of thanks, as by saying “thank you”: I never got so much as a thank-you for helping him.

You probably did not need to be told something you already knew (hence you may not want to thank me for sharing this with you). So why am I taking the time to talk about words that you possibly; probably; almost certainly use on a daily basis? Let me explain.

People who know me well know that I am not a fan of the TV programme ‘Undercover Boss’. As predictable as an episode of ‘Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’, I am always irritated by the naivety of senior business leaders at failing to be aware of what is happening in their own organisations. I refuse to believe that going ‘undercover’ on TV is the right way to finally understand, discover or recognise what colleagues and customers experience with your company and quite frankly I never will. However, despite the sour taste the programme leaves in my mouth, I find it fascinating to observe. Having watched a UK episode that I recorded last week, I am compelled to write this post. I want to spend the next few minutes writing about the significance of the words ‘thank you’ – in general, but especially in the world of Customer Experience. I hope you can find the time to read them (thank you in advance if you can).
The Undercover Boss episode in question followed YMCA England’s Director of HR, Bims Alalade. Bims writes passionately on the YMCA website about the experience – she says it is an experience that will stay with her ‘forever’. You can read her thoughts here. In case you do not know, YMCA is a charitable organisation. It is actually the largest and oldest youth charity in the world. Their work is vitally important in providing predominantly young people with a safe place to stay; a fresh start; guidance and support; and facilities to get active. The YMCA relies on full-time staff and a large number of volunteers to keep all of their services running to ‘very high standards’.
Undercover Boss - Bims Alalade
Undercover Boss – Bims Alalade
Unusually for Undercover Boss, I was emotionally moved by this episode. Unlike Bims, I do not (and never have) worked for the YMCA. I did not know or appreciate the amazing things their staff and volunteers do. From cleaning youth hostels for sometimes rude and offensive residents, to providing nightly medical help in city centres, Bims was taken by the passion, pride and motivation of the people working for her organisation. Bims should not have been surprised – she should have already known. Whilst I am comforted by the fact that she now does, I find it astonishing that as the Director of HR, it took a TV programme to open her eyes to the efforts of her own people.
The predictability of the programme leads to the staff subjected to the ‘undercover antics’ being ‘summoned to head office’. Once there, they meet with the real persona – the boss. Cue shock and dismay, humble acknowledgement of the issues from the boss, followed by a ‘gesture of goodwill’ to the member of staff concerned. I am always left wondering what the other hundreds and thousands of employees of the organisations that have participated in the programme are left feeling. Why was I not chosen? Where is my free, all expenses paid holiday to Barbados?
This is where those two words come in – ‘thank you’. What moved the employees and volunteers who participated in this episode of Undercover Boss was the fact that someone was saying ‘thank you’. A senior leader was acknowledging and recognising the work that they do. People are actually quite simple – as children, we usually respond rather well when our parents give us positive feedback. We are no different as adults. The two simple words with a total of eight letters used honestly and often are a good way of keeping employees feeling motivated and valued.
How many bosses do you know that do not say thank you? How many bosses have you worked for that rarely thanked you for anything? I have often written about the importance of acknowledgement and recognition of people as a key component for a customer centric organisation. Saying thank you goes a very long way – and best of all, it costs you absolutely nothing. I believe that ‘thank you’ are the two most important Customer Experience words of all. If your organisational culture is one where it is the norm to appreciate your people and thank them regularly, it is very likely that your customers will feel appreciated as well. The well used mantra of ‘treat your people how you want them to treat your customers’ is very apt.
I hope Bims never graces our TV screens again in this context. I hope she regularly repeats her Undercover experience again – although in future leave the wig and TV cameras at home. Just taking the time to visit, work alongside, experience and appreciate your staff will mean a whole lot more to all of your people than a TV appearance and a free holiday. I hope that Bims continues to thank people in her organisation who are doing a remarkable job – they are remarkable because they do what they do for love, not money. They are remarkable people who deserve to be told ‘thank you’ by every boss that comes their way.
So think back to the last time that you said ‘thank you’ to your own people. When did you last write them a thank you note? When did you last send them a thank you email? When did you last say thank you to them in person. Can’t remember? Do it now – don’t delay. You can thank me later.

Do you have what it takes to become a CCXP? The new certification programme for CX Professionals

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Are you passionate about Customer Experience? Do you believe that organisations should be ‘customer led’? Do you work in the field of customer service of customer experience? Do you want to be recognised for your skill set, knowledge and expertise as a customer experience professional?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, you will no doubt be interested in understanding more about a brand new Customer Experience Professional Certification programme (CCXP) that is being officially launched in January 2014. The Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), the global non-profit organisation dedicated to the advancement of customer experience management practices, is concluding the live testing of its brand new programme as we speak. To find out the detail that is available on the CCXP Programme, please have a look at the CXPA website

To become a CCXP, you will need to be able to demonstrate an understanding OF and practical application IN six subject areas. So to answer the question in the title of this post – do you have what it takes to become a CCXP – you need to be able to demonstrate that you know about the following:

  • Customer-Centric Culture – Creating and nurturing a culture, through behaviours, practices and standards, that encourages all employees to focus on delivering outstanding customer experiences.
  • Organizational Adoption & Accountability – Driving change and developing cross-company experience accountability from the C-suite to the front line.
  • VOC, Customer Insight & Understanding – Building collective insight into customer needs, wants, perceptions, and preferences through the capture and analysis of the Voice of the Customer
  • Experience Design, Improvement & Innovation – Implementing practices and approaches to continuously improve, design and differentiate customer experiences
  • Metrics, Measurement & ROI – Creation and reporting of the measures of CX success including their use in business cases to illustrate the ROI and business value of customer experience.
  • Customer Experience Strategy – Development of a strategy that articulates a clear vision of the experience that a company seeks to create in support of the company’s brand values, including its direct linkage to CX activities, resources and investments

Sounds pretty simple, right? Wrong! It may be simple to understand in some cases, but far more difficult to demonstrate the practical application in many. It is very important for our profession to continue to build the credibility and authority to influence organisations of all shapes and sizes to put the customer at the heart of what they do. Recognising the skills required to bring these six subject areas to life is an essential step to build both credibility and authority.

As a UK Ambassador for the CXPA, I am greatly encouraged by the advancements we have seen in the profession over the last twelve months. I am now even more excited about the potential 2014 will have. To finally have a formal qualification that proves the credibility of our skills and knowledge will take our authority to a whole new level. I will be taking the CCXP exam at the earliest opportunity. I will not be telling anyone when that might be………just in case!!!

If you are a customer experience professional, I very much hope that you will be as excited by the CCXP programme as I am. If you want to know more about the programme or the CXPA in general, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you want to get more involved in the CXPA, why not attend a local networking session – you will be able to find out more about what it takes to be a CCXP, as well as having the chance to meet like-minded professionals.

Whatever you choose to do, I very much look forward to seeing the letters CCXP being displayed proudly after your name very soon.