An old flame once said to me, “If you can’t be beautiful at least be interesting”. At the time it hurt, but it got me thinking about what makes us attractive. Many decades later, as a CX professional, I ask: is your organisation charismatic enough not to have to be beautiful?

CX-iness is enterprise-level, customer-centric charisma. In this article, I explore what CX-iness is and how you can bake it into what your customers experience.

Listen for the rhythm – so you can dance

 “In the beginning was a thing… and one thing led to another.” ― Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas

We are naturally curious and fascinated by things that stand out from the noise around us. It’s how we identify opportunities and threats. It’s how we highlight what’s desirable. We filter these things through our beliefs and biases, wants and fears, which in turn ignites our ideas and actions. The awareness of and attention we give to these things – what brain scientists call signals – are at the core of our survival instincts and ambitions. What arouses our curiosity leads to fascination and action.

Most of the things we focus on and decide to do hinges on trust. Do we take the risk or don’t we? Do we trust ourselves in the circumstances or do we trust our environment to take care of us and forgive any errors? To establish confidence we don’t just jump in; we watch and listen, looking for patterns, like hearing and responding to the beat of a drum.

Once we have a sense of that beat, our efforts work best when we’re both confident and willing to take action. However, just doing something to satisfy ourselves is rarely enough. The best of everything in life is shared. Almost everyone wants company – an audience – to appreciate and be part of what we do.

We crave feedback from others to reaffirm our choices and actions, especially when we’re successful, and when we aren’t, we have justifications to help us feel better. This is the fabric of all our rituals and norms.

Good relationships are built on satisfying interactions, because most of our ambitions involve other people – the people we need to help us succeed and those affected by our actions. CX-iness is not just about meeting the needs of your customers, it’s about delighting them. It matters if you want your organisation’s interaction style with each and every one of your customers to be meaningful and desirable.

The world is now more sophisticated and complex than ever with conflicting and misleading signals, opportunities and risks – but the fundamentals are the same: we pay attention, choose a course of action, evaluate the outcome, and recalibrate our beliefs and actions as a result. Or, at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Behavioural science has found that we’re irrational and distracted; prone to many biases and stubbornness. In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman said, “What you see is all there is. Considering how little we know, the confidence we have in our beliefs is preposterous. Poor evidence can make a very good story.” In your business, a properly designed Voice of Customer (VoC) program and a robust CX Strategy is a start to reducing some of these perceptive and behavioural traps.

It’s so easy and lazy to jump to conclusions and trust our gut feeling with little or no evidence. We even get plenty encouragement to trust ourselves in the age where personal enlightenment has been commoditised with pithy memes. My grandfather once told me, “A knowledgeable person learns something new every day, but a wise person gives up a certainty every day.”

At the core of CX-iness is that wisdom – suspending judgement and being curious and open to a reality you don’t yet know or understand. We can’t explain our difficulties away with excuses or justifications. “In the horrifying calculus of self-deception, the greater the pain we inflict on others, the greater the need to justify it to maintain our feelings of decency and self-worth.” ― Carol Tavris, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

Think of a VoC program is like getting to know someone new and interesting. You’ll rarely get bored. This doesn’t mean giving up on your ideas, opinions and goals. It just means constantly making small and consistent adjustments as you navigate and intended path to include someone else and new ideas. We do this naturally in our chosen relationships. We intuit body language and listen to tone of voice and language.

Closing the loop – responding explicitly to VoC feedback – is like dancing with your customers. How can we apply this skill effectively as a business?

Don’t step on your customer’s toes

If we just focus on our own interests, we restrict our input channels, which makes it hard to coordinate with others. Intense focus is a useful skill for complex, delicate and high-risk tasks, but it’s not the only skill we need to function successfully in society.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard a lot from people proclaiming their rights to freedom and choice when faced with government-imposed lockdowns, emergency laws and restrictions.  Okay. But, when you personally care about someone other than yourself – a friend, family, a partner, a child or a pet or maybe, your neighbours – someone who depends on you and is influenced by your choices, then their wellbeing should naturally trump narcissistic thinking about your rights to freedom and self-serving choice.

Right?

Maybe you want to march to the beat of your own drum, however, if you care about someone other than yourself – you start thinking about them as part of what matters to you ­­– and I’m not saying instead of yourself. We only become acutely aware of our rights when we feel unsafe or treated unfairly – when we feel vulnerable. “But, it’s not personal, it’s business”. How many times have you heard that? Everything is personal.

In the business world, CX-iness is caring for the wellbeing and safety of those who engage with your organisation – employees, vendors and your customers. Reducing their anxieties and increasing their sense of safety is the CX-iness of building and sustaining trust. We can only do this if we’re listening.

CX-iness starts with seeking insights in what our customers are telling us via listening posts. Listening post insights are what CX-y organisations use to inform their decisions and the good news is that you already have a couple if you have a phone number and an email address.

The scale of listening and caring in large organisations is daunting. It’s often hard to balance the needs of the customers with the needs of the organisation. Ironic as these two words sound together, ‘scaled intimacy’ begins, like any one-to-one relationship, with compatibility of mutually advantageous interests – followed by consistently keeping agreements, however small. … and such intimacy can be scaled out to many relationships. It just needs exquisite choreography.

Setting up agreements can be tricky. You have to work through pre-existing expectations and assumptions – that’s why every aspect of experience design is important and requires care. Working at scale with self-serve digital layers between you and your customers means some agreements are implied and others are explicit. Both count equally to the people who experience your organisation. As we – both the business and its customers – progressively reveal our wants and take more risks to fulfil them we become more intimate.

Intimacy is at the core of every interaction and transaction, because these exchanges of value make us vulnerable. How we respect this vulnerability is essential to building healthy relationships and good dance partners. Relationships are a two-way street where the little things count – those micro-interactions that encourage or discourage us to take the next steps. Over time, taking steps together creates the memories that become experiences, beliefs and opinions.

Scaling intimacy needs a carefully choreographed, customer-centric focus between individuals and teams with different skills and priorities. The intended experience gets unpredictable and messy for everyone when those teams turn inward and focus on their own priorities and ways of doing things, instead of sharing a common view of, and a focus on, the customer’s wellbeing. Getting it wrong is a bit like planning to perform Swan Lake, but ending up with a rave party. It will get messy.

Within organisations, messy experiences are usually followed by an unhappy combination of blame and frantic CYA activity (a.k.a. covering your ass). Imagine if all that effort went into fixing the problems instead of covering them up! The same happens in your personal relationships. We’re not going to get everything right all of the time, but it’s how we listen to and handle feedback that make all the difference to people’s trust in and reliance on us. People aren’t wired for uncertainty and upheaval – we crave resolution.

Healthy relationships constantly challenge us to rethink who we are and moderate how we behave. We don’t live or die by our intentions; we live and die by our behaviours. Of course, there are people and organisations with ill-intent who masked their behaviours, leaving a trail of damage behind them for far longer than acceptable. Avoiding change manifests as denial, deflection and defensiveness, but customers only tolerate this for a short while before moving on. Remember, like loved ones, customers want to trust you and nobody wants their toes stepped on.

If your customers don’t trust you, they will eventually leave. They may not even engage with you at all! If they leave unhappy, they will tell the whole world about it. Evidence shows that unhappy people make a lot more noise than happy people, so it’s not balanced.

P.T. Barnum’s maxim that “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” increasingly no longer holds true.

If leaving you offers no benefit, because the competition isn’t any different or there is no alternative, you will still have customers, but you’d be more honest if you just called them hostages. Looking at its sales and retention metrics, Microsoft executives were convinced its millions of customers were happy, until they asked. Just because people have no alternatives, for whatever reason, doesn’t make them happy! As Jeanne Bliss, Founder and President of Customer Bliss, and Co-Founder of The CXPA says, Would you do that to your mother?”  

So, how do you prevent or fix messy and spotty experiences in your organisation? It starts with building on the firm foundations with a Voice of the Customer program informing your Customer Insights and Understanding, along with a Customer Experience Strategy which is informed by your Metrics, Measurement, and ROI framework.

Building on firm foundations is an concept borrowed from early Agile principles and is, in part, based on the Deming PDCA cycle –  a continuous loop of planning, doing, checking and acting. It’s part of having CX-iness and it means establishing flexible, evolving processes and systems when implementing your CX strategy.

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