In my two decades of managing customer experience (CX) for major brands, one call stands out for the powerful lesson it offers. At the time, I led CX for an identity protection provider. The caller was distraught. Our front-line agent calmed her down enough to learn she was a grandmother who had recently started college. She had just been robbed of her money, credit cards, keys, ID, even her phone — but she was not a subscriber to our service. How should our CX team respond to this non-customer?
If you are responsible for CX, you balance human nature, data, technology and vendors every day in your decisions and interactions. CX skills are built through experience and the lessons of others. Here are four such lessons for CX leaders which I found valuable.
Lesson 1: People: Build Your Team Carefully
It starts with people. Surround yourself with stunningly qualified teams whose experience matches your company’s challenges. Are you scaling up to provide CX support around the world? You’ll get the best results with colleagues who have already built and managed global teams.
New hires should arrive capable of handling the tasks they’ll confront. Otherwise, you will get pulled into problems that your reports should handle.
Select people who can adopt your culture when they join. Going back to that phone call from a robbery victim, I had been promoting “Warm Blanket Culture” as a guideline to my CX team. In other words, put a warm blanket around each customer. Our call-center agent had internalized that protective, caring attitude and had the experience to recognize this non-customer as a Warm Blanket opportunity. She told the caller, “I’ll enroll you in our service, so I can help you now. Once you get back on your feet, you can pay us. Don’t worry — just hold on.” She escalated the call to her supervisor and said, “I need your personal credit card to sign up a new customer and help her now.” The supervisor also embraced our Warm Blanket approach — the grandmother received immediate aid. A bad situation was made good, and our culture and morale received a powerful boost.
To emphasize the point, recruit colleagues who know the job, because they can perform at a special level when necessary. While I oversaw CX at Netflix, a customer complained that in two years, he had not found one movie to watch. My frontline colleague stepped out of his lane, and rather than argue, he refunded two full years. But wait, there’s more: the agent picked several movies he liked and recommended them to the caller. That customer turned out to be a prominent tech blogger who told that story far and wide. CX is a discipline where kindness can ripple out from the high-achieving team you build.
Related Article: What Separates Customer Experience Leaders From the Laggards?
Lesson 2: Data: Manage Performance With Real-Time Insights
Data informs how you prioritize and where to allocate your attention. Obsession with data puts you ahead. You need it to manage performance, and it sharpens your intuition — sometimes by proving your instincts are wrong.
Back when I was at Netflix, it was important for leadership to give feedback in the moment. This made us much more successful in helping and coaching employees through their growth. This is the polar opposite of many companies that wait until well after an incident has occurred to address issues with team members. The lag in delivering feedback ultimately breeds confusion and resentment on the employee side because they feel picked on and it creates pressure on the management side to land this message. It’s because they themselves know the feedback is coming off as arbitrary when it’s not being given in a timely manner for immediate improvement.
The key to delivering real-time feedback is — you guessed it — data. Having granular insights on performance can arm a manager with the information they need to engage with employees in a timely, dignified and constructive manner. The magic is transparency with metrics and goals and addressing problems in the moment.
Related Article: Is Your Company Data-Driven or Data-Informed?
Lesson 3: Leading: Interact, Coach and Learn Generously
In today’s hybrid world, we need to be conscious of how we’re interacting with our teams. Things to be aware of in this new virtual world: Is a video call necessary? Might a phone call be better? What percent of your meetings have clear actions? Do you ask folks how they are really doing and show that you really support their mental state of mind and well being? If you’re a CX leader, it’s crucial for you to converse with and become invested in your people.
Be gracious with your time when you coach and encourage colleagues, and give them the context to succeed. From them, you’ll get irreplaceable intel on what’s happening right under your nose.
If you hold back information, you’re burning emotional bridges instead of building them. When your colleagues know how you think and what you prioritize, they “channel” you. Sharing yourself builds trust that encourages colleagues to open up — and that’s crucial.
Data is critical, but KPIs and numbers are only half the view you need. If numeric data is a gold mine, your people are platinum. For platinum, you must dig deeper. Typically, I discover problems by asking a colleague three times. Each time you ask, an onion layer is peeled back.
Related Article: Bringing the ‘Customer’ Back Into Customer Experience
Lesson 4: Vendors and Partners: Be Tough, Be Clear
You leverage technology every day: tools, the FAQ, the chat box, AI. Be demanding and fair with your vendors and partners. As CX leader, I own the analytics, metrics and insights. Vendors own the execution at the front line. I don’t give them credit for just doing the prescribed job. That’s the minimum baseline.
Use your own metrics and skill to evaluate vendors. A chat-bot vendor will offer reports on how many contacts they deflect, but measuring just deflection — which some customers despise — can hurt you. The impact on customer retention and lifetime revenue must be part of your analysis.
Get excited about vendors who innovate and work to give you better data to manage performance and help you spend more time connecting with your colleagues.
I’d emphasize this about leadership: CX people are not always asked what is broken. Your product and customer issue experts are uniquely qualified to inform you. Build trust and ask them. Develop your teams with care, push to obtain better data and analytics, and expect continuous improvement from vendors.
I hope these four lessons assist you in managing CX. Had I known these principles when I started out, it would have helped and my successes often resulted from integrating them into every day at work.
Ramon Icasiano is an award-winning, 20+ year CX industry leader and visionary. His experience spans many industries with well-known start-ups: Fintech (Earnin), Entertainment (Netflix), Mobile Gaming (Zynga), Telecommunications (Verizon), and various management consulting engagements.