Winning Customer Advocacy at the C-Level

Customer experience expert Michael Cutbill highlights the value of delivering a 'Sustainable' CX rather than an 'Ultimate' one to counteract C-Level deafness to CX arguments.

Michael Cutbill 2.jpgMichael Cutbill is a leading customer experience (CX) expert in the financial services industry, having been the Marketing Director for the likes of Saga Services Ltd and The AA for six and seven years, respectively.

He previously wrote for CX Network about what key things customer experience leaders should have in place to achieve real CX change. This time around he tackles C-suite collaboration, and what CX leaders can do to get the focus on the customer across all functions within a company.

Are you a passionate advocate for the customer, who for some reason doesn't seem to get heard by the people at the top of your firm?

Lots of companies have people who feel this passion, and think themselves ignored. My view, based on many years of being on boards, is that it's often the fervour to be 100% on the customer's side that causes C-Level deafness to customer experience arguments. And that in turn is because the customer's interests, and those of the company, are never going to be totally aligned.

The customer is after an 'Ultimate' experience. If, in market research, you ask customers to design their dream purchase journey, they often come up with a list of features like:

  • A very low price, transparently compared with other companies' prices
  • Very little effort needed to select and buy
  • No clunky attempts by the company at cross-sell or up-sell, just a single-minded purchase journey
  • Easy access to previous customers' reviews, presented in a neutral way
  • Entitlement to loyalty or additional benefits from the start
  • Personal service (phone, webchat) always available to help out with any queries
  • and so on

In isolation, a compelling case can often be put forward for any of these features. But in the aggregate, companies simply can't afford to deliver against all customer desires all of the time. Often it falls to the C-level to relate this inconvenient truth to the organisation. A cycle of dashed hopes, started when suggestions come in from the front line and ended when they get rebuffed at the C-Level, can lead to lower morale and the accusation that leadership isn't listening.

The way that customer experience advocates can break the cycle is to start by seeing things from the C-Level's point of view. Generally the two key players who need convincing are the CEO and CFO and their motivations must be respected. Yes, most CEOs will have the customer at heart, but they also have a powerful responsibility to deliver a profitable and sustainable business to their shareholders. They fully understand that better customer experience drives better sales, but also that in meeting customers' wishes, a balance must be struck.

Delivering a 'Sustainable' CX rather than an 'Ultimate' one

My view is that sensible companies should aspire to deliver a 'Sustainable' customer experience rather than an 'Ultimate' one, and that this is the approach that will find favour at the C-Level. In practice, 'Sustainable' doesn't mean poor or easy to deliver. Nor does it mean static. It means a level of customer experience that stacks up against what the competition is doing, does not get rated as onerous by customers, can be delivered with pride by the organisation and can be afforded over the long term.

'Sustainable' CX will also be appreciated by customers, who fully understand that they can't have everything for next to nothing. A stand-out example in recent years has been Ryanair, where the fares and scheduling have meant that customers put up with the rest and rate the overall CX highly.

Getting C-Level directors to review CX

If CX advocates are to balance their proposals in setting the level of CX, it's reasonable to expect that C-Level directors should also be exposed to the difficult choices that have to be made to strike that balance. Some companies do this by asking directors to review a sample of customer complaints each month, something I used to do and always found sobering.

But the best method I came across was at the AA, where one or two of the director reviewed, each month, the CX involved in buying and running an AA product. They would then report back to the rest of the directors in an open forum. Next month, another two directors would cover another couple of products. Now, if you were the director in charge of the customer journey under review and your colleagues, taking the role of average customers, openly criticised it, there was a huge motivating impetus to get CX issues fixed!

In summary, my experience leads me to believe that CX advocacy should come from a place where the need for balance in C-Level aspirations is understood. From this base, bringers of CX initiatives can expect to be greeted with enthusiasm, rather than suspicion, by company leadership.