A couple of weeks ago, I joined a group of customer experience (CX) professionals who work across a variety of Federal Government agencies here in the U.S. for a virtual question and answer session. I enjoy these sorts of sessions because they touch on a variety of topics that span the essential competencies of experience management (XM).

The questions centered around two key topics: 1) engaging leaders and employees in CX and 2) adapting customer listening programs to get the most out of their efforts. While I was speaking with a government audience,  it was striking how similar their questions were to the ones that I regularly hear from CX pros working in companies across industries around the world. Because of this almost universal “appeal,” I decided to share my responses in this post.

 

Question: How can I really impress on senior leaders the importance of CX beyond just as a score or metric?

Answer: Gaining executive commitment is challenging at any time, but especially now when there are so many things competing for their attention and so many trade-offs are being considered. The most important thing you can do is to identify the key business questions your CEO / senior executives are trying to make decisions around and look at how you can demonstrate ways your CX program can provide insights to help make those decisions with greater confidence. Start by looking at the data you can provide to help prioritize certain actions or decisions over others in terms of their impact on customers. Articulate the impact using both experience data (X-data such as how customers are feeling, where performance – in their eyes – is lagging behind, how changes you’ve already made are resonating well, etc.) and operational data (O-data including how many customers are potentially impacted by a pain point, problem, or potential change and the potential dollars at risk if not addressed).

Aligning your work closely to the decisions they are making right now is a tactic I categorize as a way to “share compelling opportunities” – which is one of six levers to activate executive commitment that I wrote about in this best practices report. There are five other levers you can read about in the report: create vision clarity, amplify emotional empathy, feed intrinsic motivations, enable first steps, and fuel ongoing confidence. 

 

Question: How can I engage the broader organization in what CX is and why it matters?

Answer: Engaging the broader organization can be a challenge for CX leaders, particularly as they are moving the CX program through the first few stages of maturity. It’s important to recognize three key audiences – senior executives, middle managers, and individual contributors (both customer-facing and those who are behind the scenes) – when considering why and how to engage them.

  • Leaders: Leaders – and their engagement or lack thereof – set the tone for how the organization will embrace a customer-centric culture. When the CX leader and team short-cut building executive commitment, they end up with “nodding heads” around the senior leadership table but no real change in how leaders act or make decisions to support CX. Real commitment means leaders are actively modeling desired behaviors, holding each other and the rest of the organization accountable, and clearing obstacles in the path of CX efforts. This tool can be used to explore ways you can obtain support for improving CX at the top of the organization.
  • Middle Managers: Too often during CX transformation efforts companies overlook middle managers, even though that group is often best positioned to guide their teams to success as the bridge between the vision of senior leaders and the day-to-day work of their teams. Part of your CX transformation plan needs to include how you will ensure middle managers have the training, tools, and support to understand their unique role in the CX transformation process. Their role? To coach and reinforce desired new behaviors and to help employees connect their individual contributions to the team’s and company’s CX success. This report provides some additional ideas on how to activate middle managers.
  • Individual Contributors: As much as we might wish for it, there is no wand that a CX professional can wave to magically instill in employees how they need to act in order to deliver on the organization’s CX strategy. One of the most frequently skipped steps when rolling out CX to an organization is defining the actual behaviors that represent CX success across employee roles. Yes, it can be a lot of work. But the CX or HR team doesn’t have to do this work alone. When rolling out its refreshed CX strategy, one technology company engaged employee representatives from across the company to define how they delivered on that strategy in their roles. The CX team used that input to define sets of behaviors describing what great customer experience looks like by role for its wider roll-out campaign, which included a variety of company-wide communications and targeted live and virtual training programs.

 

Question: How can I be more creative when it comes to listening to customers, beyond traditional surveys?

Answer: In the current environment, where we cannot interact with our customers face-to-face and where we, as organizations, may be sensitive to over-burdening them with traditional surveys, there are still some ways to listen to them. A few are relatively standard tactics to more passively listen – meaning you can glean insights from things they are doing or communicating without sending them a survey. These include analyzing chat or call transcripts from your contact center to identify pain points, challenges, or even what is currently working, using web analytics to understand the most entered search terms or the most frequently viewed knowledge base pages to identify major areas of confusion or top questions customers are interested in, and monitoring social media interactions to help with those things as well. If you are still engaging with customers through interactions like webinars or online sessions of some sort, you might include a short question at the end of the session on a particular topic of interest to address an immediate learning need.

Turning inside the organization, employees can be a creative channel to capture the voice of your customers. Ask customer-facing employees to keep a journal taking notes around a short set of questions or topics following calls or conversations. These are not necessarily items that the employee asks the customer about directly, but rather questions that prompt the employee to listen for or observe during the course of the interaction. This can be done with sales, customer service, technical support, customer success/account management, or any customer-facing team where the right customer type/segment is involved. Then at the end of the day or end of the week, use an internal survey to capture what employees tracked in their journals and analyze for key findings, patterns, or emerging signals. You can also bring small groups of employees together (on a call or web meeting) to debrief what they captured in their journals to provide additional context around what they input into your internal survey. This group debrief can also encourage cross-employee and cross-team sharing and collaboration around common things they are hearing from customers. This practice is an example of “frontline feedback” designed to collect feedback around critical interactions between employees and customers to understand experiences and drive improvement.

If you do choose to use a survey, remember to consider the environment of your customer and how your request for feedback will be positioned. This blog post provides additional advice on how to shift your listening program during times of crisis.

 

Question: Is it more important to look at relationship metrics or transactional metrics? Where should we be putting our investment and attention?

Answer: This is one of those questions where the answer really does vary, even within an industry. Let’s start first with defining terms. 

A relationship metric is typically measured periodically and is used to learn about the overall relationship with your customers, across segments and key drivers of loyalty. Relationship metrics focus on customer attitudes like willingness to recommend, likelihood to buy again, or overall satisfaction – and what contributed to shaping those attitudes – and the findings can help to support CX strategy development, decision making, and identifying how the organization collectively works together to close experience gaps.

A transactional metric is typically event-triggered and usually runs continuously. These metrics help the organization to understand how it is performing when an experience is delivered to a customer – such as the buying experience, the support experience, the set-up experience, etc. Transactional metrics help to inform individual functions and teams about how they are delivering on moments that matter to customers and the performance in specific touchpoints or channels. These metrics not only help drive continuous improvement projects to address pain points but can help to coach individual and team behaviors and celebrate individual and team performance.

Most CX professionals recognize a healthy XM program will draw on a combination of these metrics to measure and improve its experiences in a way that drives value back to the business. So when it comes to answering the question about where to focus, I want to take a step back and offer these recommendations for your experience monitoring strategy:

  • Prioritize metrics and insights that will drive action instead of what’s needed for reporting. Meaning, the value of your VoC programs comes from the actions the organization takes from it. So when making decisions about where to focus attention when listening to customers, put it on the things that will drive action.
  • Focus on key moments instead of setting up as many touchpoints as possible. Not every customer interaction or transaction is equally important. Hone your focus by identifying the moments that have the biggest impact on customer loyalty and invest in measuring and improving those moments. Periodically, check on how customers are doing across their entire journey, in case those moments of truth change, and readjust listening posts as needed.
  • Adjust monitoring as you learn instead of locking into a fixed system. Related to the recommendation above, establish a cadence to review your metrics and insights program and be prepared to update it to reflect changes to the business, its priorities, your offerings and interactions, the market, and your customers. While trending can be helpful, it’s more important to use your available program capacity to focus on what’s important to inform your CX management efforts, which can change over time.
  • Target key customer segments instead of treating all feedback as equal. Just like all transactions aren’t equal, neither are all customers. This is why integrating operational data can be so valuable – it can help segment respondent groups to allow you to focus your analysis on the feedback from those customers who are most important to the business.

You can explore questions and answers with your XM peers within and across industries as a member of the XM Institute’s XM Professionals Network (XMPN). It’s a place to connect, learn, and advance with the help of XM Institute faculty and fellow XM professionals. Learn more and get involved here.

Aimee Lucas is an XM Catalyst with the Qualtrics XM Institute.