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Better, faster customer experience starts with organizational change

Better, faster customer experience starts with organizational change
Jun 10, 2022
Editor's note: This is an update to an article that was originally published in July 2020. It presents four reasons that organizations struggle with customer experience (CX)—and describes four ways to jumpstart the CX improvement process.

The evidence is clear: customers expect excellent experiences. Focusing on making customer interactions better enables organizations to gain and maintain trust, satisfaction, and loyalty.

Gartner research shows that 75% of organizations can now quantify the return on investment of good customer experiences and CX’s impact on generating higher revenue. Customers who have a good experience are 3.5 times more likely to make additional purchases and five times more likely to recommend a company than those who don’t. 

Even in the U.S. federal government, the focus on customer (or citizen) experience has increased dramatically in the last decade. CX really gained momentum under the Obama administration, starting with the formation of a cross-agency customer service working group. Then followed Executive Order 13571, the government’s first customer experience officer, and the establishment of organizations such as 18F and the U.S. Digital Service.

This progress continues today under the guidance of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) and Biden's Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government.

Why moving quickly from research to action is difficult

Despite all this evidence, why are so many organizations still slow to act even after they’ve gathered some information about customer pain points? Here are four reasons organizations can get stuck:

Analysis paralysis

It’s a common situation: A group overanalyzes data or over-thinks a problem to the point where the group is unable to move forward. This often kills creativity, productivity, and progress. Paralysis happens at scale in large organizations with many cooks in the kitchen who each add spices to the experience that ends up on a customer’s plate. With no master chef coordinating it all, teams can get stuck tweaking away at data points and revising PowerPoint decks while trying to sell stakeholders from each team on investing in better CX—when instead they could be testing ideas against organizational performance metrics. If the convincing takes too long, often the highest-level person just takes the action they wanted to take anyway, regardless of the customer feedback that’s gathered.

A lack of empowered CX leadership

Much of CX paralysis stems from the lack of a strong CX function that has support and investment from organization leadership, which is important to effective planning and implementation. Of course, how much this role can be centralized under a single leader depends on how large the organization is, and how siloed teams and resources really are. At a minimum, however, the organization must designate someone to be responsible for CX as a facilitator and support mechanism who has a seat at every table that impacts the customer. Product, sales, marketing, and other teams all play critically important roles, but they have distinct interests from the focus of CX.

For example, acquisition professionals are likely held more accountable for how many procurements they issue than for how the resulting contract impacted a customer’s mission, and their resulting likelihood to work with the procurement activity in the future. Regardless of who “owns” CX, the organization needs a customer-centered identity put into practice at an enterprise level. Every branch must support the others. Leadership can be an effective lubricant, but the organizational culture must ensure that each cog with which a customer engages is built with a customer-focused mindset.

No modern, consolidated Voice of Customer program

Part of the analysis paralysis challenge also comes from jumping into CX data gathering without a plan in place for continually collecting, evaluating, sharing, and acting upon information. Where these programs are in place, they may be out of date both in terms of technology and effectiveness. This means organizations place too much importance on small samples from exploratory research or in faulty information that does not truly communicate customer feedback. For example, the organization may have done initial research to inform customer journey mapping and uncover pain points. It may even have developed a survey tool to collect information. The information gets less and less useful over time, either because it is out of date or because the collection mechanism no longer asks the right questions in the right way. Progress stalls because stakeholders too often think of initial data gathering as a one-and-done activity.

Rather, the initial data should inform the piloting and testing of ideas, all of which results in more information about what does and doesn’t work. The collection tool itself should be constantly revisited to make sure the data is valid and actionable. Organizations need not worry so much about making a wrong decision with only one set of research to go on. As always, some things about the decision will work well and others may not. But without a structured program in place to help organizations see the light at the end of the tunnel—the ability to go ahead and test ideas and then improve more each time—it’s tough to gain consensus on moving forward.

Go to ICF
 Customer Interaction     VoC Channel  
Complete a form on the website Web intercept survey Was the form understandable and easy to find and use?
Discuss need at a field office Automated text message after customer leaves office Was the agency representative courteous and empathetic? Was the customer’s need met?
Ask a question via 1-800 number Interactive voice response survey before call disconnects.  Was the customer’s question answered? Were they on hold an appropriate amount time?
Complain about a service received Social media platforms (e.g., Twitter) What concerns are customers voicing online regarding services provided?

An absence of agile culture

A willingness to test ideas and act on VoC data quickly and iteratively requires an agile culture. That means the organizational culture is one that emphasizes cross-disciplinary collaboration and iterative responses to customer needs over excessive planning and siloed workstreams. An agile organization might use a lean roadmap (a high-level guide of what’s to be done) to go out and rapidly test ideas; VoC data would tell them what’s working and what’s not. (Yes, you can apply agile principles to CX!) Unfortunately, many organizations spend too much time trying to use exploratory data to develop more and more detailed plans, many of which never become actions. Of course, customers prefer less talk, more action.

Your goal should be faster real-time insights

There’s no silver bullet. However, to implement CX improvements faster, organizations must address the four areas above and start testing improvements in the field faster to get real-time insights and stop overanalyzing exploratory research. Focus on four organizational changes to move to CX implementation faster:

Research and test

Use exploratory research data to form hypotheses about which product, service, or process changes will make for a better experience. Then test those hypotheses immediately with a segment of customers as soon as you have prototyped the solution.

Define what CX means for your organization

Explicitly define the role of CX and its leader within the organization, then make sure each supporting team along the customer journey is engaged—and enabled—to support them. Sharing feedback data outside of departmental silos is a must.

Create a Voice of the Customer program

Create and constantly improve a formal Voice of the Customer program and corresponding CX metrics dashboards so all levels of the organization understand which sub-drivers along the customer journey impact satisfaction the most.

Embrace an agile approach to customer experience

Build lean roadmaps and agile workstreams targeted toward improving CX. Whether the work pertains to digital systems or back-end business processes, many journey touchpoints involve the intersection of several teams internally and will require fast-moving, high-collaboration operating environments.

Becoming more agile with CX isn’t easy. It requires a strong, customer-centric culture and leadership that can wrangle many departments and stakeholders. And it requires change management at scale that generates employee buy-in and ambassadorship. But knowing that effective CX produces a return on investment that helps you better deliver on your mission and gain the trust of the citizens you serve is reason enough to invest in getting it right.

Your mission, modernized.

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Meet the author
  1. Josh DeLung, Partner, Digital Strategy and Experience Practice Lead

    Josh DeLung is an expert in digital customer and user experience with nearly 20 years of combined strategic communication and digital strategy expertise. View bio