In a recent article I talked about how customer experience excellence (CXX) is the only sustainable differentiator in business.
But how do you take it from buzzword to tangible benefit?
The answer, I believe, lies in using emotional intelligence to build a customer service culture that is completely ingrained in the way your people think.
For that, you need to focus on what really motivates employees, not as cogs in a revenue machine but as people. As human beings.
Easier said than done, of course – humans are complex and unique and can’t be influenced in a mechanical way.
Having learned a few things from implementing our own CXX programme at Vodafone Enterprise, which we call The Red Line, I believe there are five key principles upon which any CXX culture should be built:
- Recognition, not just reward
- Groups, not individuals
- Structure, not rules
- Pulses, not explosions
- Proof, not solutions
Let’s look at each of those in more detail…
1. Recognition, not just reward
To create a fanatical obsession with CXX that every person in the business is in tune with, you need to focus not only on reward but recognition of your employees.
Any company can simply pay somebody more or give them a bonus when they serve customers better. But money alone won’t show people you care about them and it certainly won’t make them genuinely get behind your mission and deliver CXX.
Sure, they’ll do it because there’s a financial reward at the end. But what if you took that away? It’s not a sustainable approach.
Recognition could be as simple as a senior manager taking time out of their day to call an employee and give them positive feedback. Or it could be peer-led – having people nominate their colleagues for doing great work.
Whatever the method you choose, the results can be powerful.
2. Groups, not individuals
CXX culture is not about creating heroes – you want to celebrate collaboration by recognising group success over individual achievement.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t give people the credit they deserve. As I outlined above, recognition is hugely important when it comes to embedding a CXX culture in an organisation.
But when you recognise the efforts of whole teams you create a sense that everyone is in it together – you encourage people to help each other out and do great things for your customers, not because they want to be personally praised but because they want everyone to succeed.
Case in point: I remember one particular Saturday – some of our employees came into the office completely off their own back and on their own time to run through a mountain of process documentation.
Why? They received little personal benefit from doing so – they knew they wouldn’t be paid any more, and we certainly wouldn’t expect or even ask them to spend their free time in the office.
They did it to make their colleagues’ lives easier.
That’s what The Red Line is about, and it’s what any CXX culture should be aiming to achieve: building a community of people who don’t question why they’re helping their teammates do brilliant work for your customers.
They simply say: “That’s just the way we do things around here.”
3. Structure, not rules
In a traditional corporate setting, the leaders at the top would set out what the company should be doing and everyone else would be required to follow.
And when the world moved a lot slower and you could afford to innovate in five-year cycles, that approach may well have been effective.
But to have any hope of keeping up with evolving market and customer demands today you need a much flatter structure – one where everyone leaves their rank at the door and all voices are heard.
It’s about putting in place the processes and permissions that will enable your CXX culture to thrive without saying: “You must do things this way.”
Culture lasts because people want to behave in a certain way – not because they’ve been told to.
Yes, you have to set the tone from the top in the first instance. But it’s about giving people the tools and guidance to do great things for your customers and then inspiring them to get on with it.
4. Pulses, not explosions
In my experience, many organisations going through a period of significant change tend to announce things in big ‘moments’. They ‘save up’ news in order to make a bigger impact.
But this form of communication can alienate people – it can make them feel they’re not part of the change.
This is exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve when you’re trying to embed a CXX culture into your business.
Instead, try communicating little and often about anything related to your CXX programme. This means people feel involved throughout the process of change and have plenty of opportunity to put their opinions across.
We like to split people into smaller groups to deliver specific communications and then allow those comms to spread across the rest of the organisation.
Again, this lets people air their views in a controlled and safe environment. And by communicating ‘little and often’ you get a much more real-time view of how your new culture is developing and how people feel about it.
5. Proof, not solutions
Technology can absolutely have a positive impact on your ability to deliver customer excellence. But it is far from a solution in itself.
Frankly, no tool on this planet is going to achieve the kind of CXX culture I’ve outlined above. Not alone.
But some tools can help you embed that culture by shining a light on the brilliant CXX efforts occurring across your organisation. And ultimately any kind of company culture lives or dies by the way it’s communicated.
We use enterprise social media platforms to encourage collaboration between different departments, levels of seniority or countries. It enables people to share what they’ve been doing with people they wouldn’t normally engage with.
Tools like this encourage live interaction and can spark debate, ultimately accelerating the kind of social proof that will help embed your new CXX culture more quickly and give it staying power.
The five principles I’ve outlined above can help you turn a CXX programme into something even greater: a genuinely sustainable CXX culture.
Once that culture is embedded into your business you’ll find you no longer need to manage it. It’ll take on a life of its own, spreading through your organisation and influencing everything from the way teams work together to how people plan and budget and carry out everyday tasks.
All of this will translate into better customer satisfaction, longer-lasting relationships and happier staff, for relatively little financial investment.
If you can think of a more cost-effective way to increase your market share and revenues, not just now but in five or ten years’ time, I’d love to know about it!