Balancing budget with ambition in CX

I met a rather senior acquaintance for drinks the other week.  Following a promotion, they are tasked with turning a relatively strong performance service team into “best in class”  champions of customer engagement.  My acquaintance wanted to kick around a few ideas on this rather exciting project – and highlight a few concerns.

Modern business expects miracles from their workforce – make it cheaper, make it faster, make it better, make it more efficient.  Innovation comes when many are under pressure, and the best ideas often start out as a crazy hunch.  But one of the challenges we face in this dynamic world of customer experience is the pace of change.  With insufficient examples of how transformation has changed and delivered greater profitability, those of us in the know accept that we must take a leap of faith to prove what we know – happy, engaged customers stay loyal longer, spend more money and refer you to trust associates.

It’s not a linear perspective – many factors come together to deliver the outcome of a more engaged customer.  Without each of them, the end result is weaker, or nullified.  So showing “proof” that a marketing email can increase CLV (customer lifetime value) is always going to be fraught with risk.

My acquaintance was facing such a challenge – tasked with delivering “cost neutral” transformation, showing increased revenue within 12 months.  As daft as this sounds, this is the expectation of many businesses – customer experience is the magic wand to address churn, increase up-sell, create advocacy, etc.  But the reality is that it takes a few more factors.

Firstly, you have to fund a change, so building a water tight business case to show what you need and why is essential.  The higher up you go, the more prominent the $ signs need to be in your business case.   Secondly, you need the right skills – my three “magic ingredients” are customer success, online marketing and data science.  If a business is willing to pay for high quality skills, the return on investment will come sooner.  Finally, and probably most importantly, the business needs to put its money where its mouth is and buy into the transformation.  It’s not only the responsibility of the CX function to deliver this, but everyone.  Appointing a CX director or head of customer success won’t change anything if the core leadership team don’t commit, too.

So what advice did I suggest for my acquaintance in the end?  In my world, everything starts with a terribly good plan – something YOU believe in and can commit to.  You may be fortunate enough to have an organisation looking to genuinely invest in CX development, but for most, pragmatism is a safer bet.  Instead of trying to look at different levels of service or options, I prefer to focus on the absolute minimum required actions for the change.  I don’t build in excess to my models, instead I consider the critical outcome, and build around that.  Rather than focusing on getting option A funding if you can’t get funding for option B, stand firm, demonstrate your CX credentials, and avoid compromising below that minimum level of transformation.  At the end of the evening with my acquaintance, we agreed on the following approach:

Outline your requirements, explain how the transition will work, commit to measures, be clear on what happens if you don’t or you only partially do, and seek agreement.  If the business is not willing to commit, it is better to scale back ambitions and timescales to a point at which both you are comfortable.  We need to accept that whilst we all want to be miracle workers, we also need t be realistic about what we can deliver!

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