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How to get your CEO and CFO excited about Customer Experience

Experience management leaders need to go beyond offering simple ROI and financial metrics to justify and validate the value of their customer and employee experience initiatives. They need to convince senior executives and other stakeholders in the organisation of why CX should be a strategic priority. 

There are numerous articles and reports available that tell us we must have buy-in from the executive team, especially the CEO. Even when we do this, however, CX and EX programs are still failing. There’s something going wrong! We need to re-think and re-evaluate what we are doing.

Who has bought a ticket to the game?

The first thing we need to think about is: who has bought a ticket to the game? Who are the people that you are trying to influence or want ‘buy-in’ from? What is the game they have bought a ticket to?

It’s very unlikely that the people in your organisation would say that they’ve bought a ticket to the customer experience game or the marketing game. If you have a very strong purpose or ‘why’ in your organisation that’s what they have bought a ticket to.

We spend a lot of effort getting to know our customers and maybe even our employees. Their goals, their behaviour, their buying preferences, what motivates them and so on. But how much do we know about the CEO or our chairperson or any other executive in the organisation?

As with customers if you want to influence the behaviour or decisions of your executives you need to know who they are. How many kids do they have or what do they like doing outside of work? What excites them and makes them get up in the morning and come to work?

The next thing we need to consider is: what does ‘buy-in’ actually look like? A CEO may say, “absolutely, I’m onboard with this, customer experience, is a strategic priority”. But when push comes to shove it’s not really a strategic priority for them where lots of other things will get in the way.

We also often forget about a group of people I believe are critically important and refer to as the ‘frozen middle’. This is the layer of management one or two levels below the executive team, depending on the size of the organisation.

This layer of frozen middle management may have very siloed KPIs and specific functions. It can take a lot of effort to understand these folks and to encourage their participation in creating better customer experiences. The CEO or Deputy Chair may say customer experience is a priority, but if your middle manager can’t see how it helps them achieve their KPIs, they’re going to park it to one side. They may give you lots of nods but will likely block you from whatever it is you want.

It’s critical to get to know and understand these people as well as your senior leadership team.

The Eco-system Iceberg

I like to think of customer experience or employee experience as an iceberg. On the surface, above the waterline, are all the things that make up what your customer actually experiences including contact centre operations, website, social media channels and so on.

Figure: The Eco-system Iceberg

Below the surface lies all the things within your organisation that have an impact on the customer experience. That includes people, technology, processes and departments as well KPIs, training programs, rewards and motivation programs, etc.

Finally, there are all the external influences and factors – the context of the experience. These might include government regulation, weather, natural disasters as well as key social and economic trends. These influences and factors that impact the customer experience will vary depending on the organisation and the industry it operates in.

From this you can start building a picture of all the different elements and influences that combine to impact the customer experience.

Stakeholder mapping

Stakeholder mapping involves identifying the people, teams and job roles that have a ticket to the customer experience game and maps their level of involvement. This mapping exercise allows you to identify how important a stakeholder is to the experience being mapped and their relationship to other stakeholders.

Stakeholders can be divided into three categories:

  1. Essential to the experience (Inner layer)
  2. Important to the experience (middle layer)
  3. Interesting to the experience (outer layer)

This map can be applied to any specific customer or employee experience or customer touchpoint or more wholistically to the CX or marketing functions. The critical thing to remember here is that people who think they are essential, may in fact not be, and those who think they’re only interesting, could be essential.

Stakeholder and ecosystem mapping

Let’s look, as an example, at the handling of a motor vehicle insurance claim at an insurance company. Marketing may say they’re essential to that customer experience. The truth is the claim can be lodged and processed without marketing. They’re perhaps important to let the customer know how to make a claim, but it isn’t essential to the actual context of that claim.

As you map more and more of your stakeholders you can start drawing lines between those who are in the essential layer to those in the important or interesting layers and connect them to a specific customer experience or customer touchpoint.

Once you have mapped your experience eco-system and have a more profound understanding of your stakeholders, you can evaluate what it is you want from them in order to schieve your experience objectives.

What do you want from your stakeholders?

What is it that you want from your stakeholders? And what for?

In answering these questions, try to think about the whole business rather than thinking purely about your role and KPIs. If you are making a decision or proposing a new customer experience initiative keep in mind the entire ecosystem you operate within. Demonstrate to your stakeholders that you have the organisation’s mission in mind, not just yours.

What value do stakeholders need to receive?

When we talk about value or Return-on-Investment (ROI), we tend to focus purely on financial or economic value. To get your senior executives and your frozen middle excited about customer experience you need to offer more than just financial value. Forrester has done a lot of work in defining the four dimensions of customer value[1]:

  1. Economic value (money is saved or spent)
  2. Functional value (purpose is fulfilled (or impeded)
  3. Experiential value (Interactions and sensations are pleasant (or unpleasant)
  4. Symbolic value (meaning is created (or destroyed)

In my experience, these can be effectively applied to stakeholder and business value as well. If you continue to focus only on the financial return, then that is all anyone will want from you. If, however, you can educate your senior executives and the frozen middle about all the different facets of value that your team can bring, it’s much more likely they will want to contribute to your proposals and support your efforts.

There’s a Simon Sinek quote I love: “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When they’re emotionally invested, they want to contribute”.[2]

The most important thing to remember in all this is that your stakeholders are human too. They have their own motivations and objectives they want to accomplish. If you can connect with them and understand what they want to achieve, it becomes much easier to obtain their commitment to your initiative and ‘buy-in’.

If you want to know more or need help in mapping your experience management ecosystem and stakeholders please email me: rebecca@sproutstrategy.com.au.


[1] Follow Maxie Schmidt’s research at https://www.forrester.com/blogs/author/maxie_schmidt-subramanian/

[2] https://twitter.com/simonsinek/status/230815510164545536?lang=en

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Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson CCXP is the Director of Human Experience for Sprout Strategy. Rebecca has extensive practical experience in CX & EX strategy development and implementation, customer journey mapping, research and measurement, and the application of behavioural economics theory to solve complex business problems. She has helped leading brands navigate the links between Marketing, IT and Customer Insights through a "human truth" approach.

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