In this exclusive book excerpt for Customer Experience Magazine, the authors explores why CEOs must embrace the new customer economy, or face extinction…
Being customer-led is not a new concept.
The difference today, however, is that being customer-centric is no longer an option – it is a necessity for survival and growth. And, as the principle of customer-centricity has existed for a long time, it has taken many forms, having been reinvented on many occasions to suit the zeitgeist. Same person, different attire.
For example, when Levitt argued in the 1960s that the essence of marketing was all about satisfying the customer, the marketing purists would, in turn, claim the higher ground that sales was short-term, and that marketing was all about building a sustainable business. Hence, today, marketing professionals and leaders still claim to be the ultimate customer champions within any organisation – even if they are viewed upon as a mere executor of product and solution-led communication campaigns. And even, in the worst-case scenario, when marketers have very little customer interaction at all!
Later followed the CX movement, championed by the likes of Don Peppers, where the idea of satisfying customer needs rather than gaining market share for products and solutions became the ‘new’ mantra. Ultimately, this movement spawned today’s huge global community of CX evangelists and experts, including the likes of Jeanne Bliss, Shep Hyken, Annette Franz, the Temkin Group, the CXPA, etc. Also, it gave rise to many voices in the customer communities and the net promoter system (NPS), pioneered by Fred Reichheld, Bain and Satmetrix. It also led to the seminal book by Kerry Bodine et al., titled Outside-In.
In addition to the CX community, there is also a sizeable contingent of Customer Advocacy professionals who champion the cause that a referenceable client base is key to company growth. Bill Lee, author and founder of the Centre for Customer Engagement, rightfully claims the moniker of ‘Customer Advocacy & Engagement King’, a concept which even now is being reinvented and repackaged by technology vendors such as Influitive who are looking to create a new market category under the theme of the ‘Customer-Powered Enterprise’.
Finally, and most recently, is the Customer Success movement, created and championed by the Customer Success platform vendors – first and foremost Gainsight (whose COO wrote the book on Customer Success), but also its competitors such as Totango and consultancy organisations such as TSIA (the Technology Services Industry Association). The Customer Success movement is impressive, amassing thousands of Customer Success professionals at annual conferences in the United States, Europe and Asia. The majority of Customer Success professionals come from a technical support background but have been rebadged and repositioned as customer champions of many organisations, especially in the B2B technology/SaaS world.
In reality, there is a significant overlap between all of these concepts, ideas and customer communities. By way of example, Annette Franz, CX thought leader, wrote an article in October 2018 to describe the difference between CX and Customer Success. She curated quotes from Customer Success thought leaders such as Gainsight and the Customer Success Association in an effort to compare and contrast the two disciplines. After dissecting the two concepts, she concluded as follows:
“It makes me question if the Customer Success role and discipline are really necessary. What do you think? Customer Experience is the umbrella. Get the experience right – listen to customers, understand the problems they are trying to solve, innovate, and design and deliver a better experience – and Customer Success management becomes obsolete, no? After all, it’s all about the customer.”
We have seen this before with the crossover between VoC (Voice of the Customer) and Customer Advocacy professionals. VoC teams state that the golden NPS question – likelihood to recommend – is their raison d’être. At the same time, the ultimate goal of Customer Advocacy professionals is to deliver a referenceable client base to advocate at every step of the customer journey. So, what is the difference?
The simple answer is that all of these communities present valid arguments and have important contributions to make when it comes to helping their company drive customer-led growth. Yet, no single community on its own has the silver bullet when it comes to achieving this. In truth, it is the combined set of activities that will help a company achieve its vision for customer-led growth. To coin a phrase, it is a war on all fronts. And, as we mentioned in the introduction, it is no longer a recommendation, it is a necessity.
As CX leader Claire Sporton puts it, “Investors now look for sustainable growth, not short-term wins each quarter. The M&A community are recognising that a commitment to customer centricity is a leading indicator of sustainable business growth.”
The Angora Rabbit: Why do customer-led transformations often run out of steam?
According to Sporton, “The challenge is that no one would say that the customer is not important – just like the rabbit, every-one will give it a stroke. But when it comes to looking after it, people quickly get bored. And then the fox (the maniacal pursuit of short-term revenue gain) eats the rabbit.”
Sporton makes the key point that the pursuit of customer-centric growth needs to be deeply embedded in the organisation: “There’s no business growth unless people change their behaviours. Two-day change programmes don’t work. Executive leadership must rigorously champion customer-centric values all the time, ensuring that actions are made, and impact is measured. CEOs must create sustainable, viral change.”
CX leader, Shep Hyken builds on this point: “One of the most important factors in driving growth is to establish a simple, clear and easy-to-remember customer vision statement. And then repeat it over and over again, so that everyone across the company knows it and applies it in their day-to-day activities. Leadership must set an example and constantly defend the culture. Whether it’s training, workshops or simply leading by example, the customer vision must be continually re-enforced.”
Take, for example, Horst Schulze, the founder of Ritz-Carlton. His customer vision statement was simple: “We’re ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.’ This statement is still used today, and Ritz-Carlton remains one of the most successful hotel chains ever.”
In summary, it is imperative that customer-centricity be hard-wired into the company’s DNA, culture, operations, processes, products, systems, etc. – ideally, from day 1; but, if that is not possible, then starting tomorrow.
Outrage culture has left businesses unable to sincerely say sorry.
Instead they apologise routinely for trivial transgressions, issuing ‘fauxpologies’, ‘nonpologies’ and baffling their customers with incomprehensible jargon in a way that undermines their reputation, damages their credibility and impacts on their bottom line.
In The Apology Impulse, authors Cary Cooper and Sean O’Meara reveal how businesses are getting it wrong on an epic scale.
Whether it’s Paperchase apologising to the Twitterati for a marketing promotion with the Daily Mail and cutting themselves off from the Mail’s 1.5m readership by promising never to advertise with them again. Or the boss of United Airlines apologising for ‘reaccomodating’ a peaceful passenger who was bloodied by United staff and physically dragged from his reserved seat so it could be given to aircrew for United’s operational convenience.
Cooper and O’Meara show how the business world is increasingly driven by an instinctive fear of mass disapproval and hyper-sensitivity to even the smallest criticism. They apologise for the most trivial of things but withhold the big apologies when things really go wrong, due mainly to an unfounded fear of litigation.
Getting it wrong is damaging, but getting it right can enhance an organisation’s reputation even in the midst of a major crisis. Nick Varney, the CEO of Alton Towers, was widely praised for his direct, plain-speaking and empathetic handling of the 2015 rollercoaster crash. He accepted full responsibility and made sure the victims were at the heart of his response, famously replying: “You’ll forgive me if I’m not really focused on the share price at the moment,” when asked about the commercial impact.
The Apology Impulse explores our modern addiction to apologising without really saying sorry. It looks at the best and worst examples to help readers understand when and how to make meaningful amends and why respectfully holding your ground makes you better at being sorry.
It reveals the tricks and techniques we all use to evade, reframe, and divert from what we did. Explaining the psychological reasons why people quickly demand apologies and why businesses are so quick to give them.
The bookillustrates why stage-managed apologies can harm businesses and their clients and provides essential lessons for every business, CEO or communications professional who may find themselves in the eye of a crisis in the future.
The Apology Impulse is published by Kogan Page and out 3 October, priced £14.99.