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The Shared Responsibility
of Customer Experience

Successful customer experience should be an organizational goal. Here’s why too few companies are set up to make it a company priority.

Nothing irks consumers or customers more than feeling misled by invalid claims about a product, or feeling let down by sub-par service from a client or a broken customer service experience from a retailer. Of course, numerous examples on both the business and consumer side show how critical managing the entire, end-to-end customer experience is for building sustainable customer relationships, yet so few companies do it right. So why are so many of them failing to deliver?

A lot of it comes down to departmental silos. Too often the sales side and the service side of an organization are not set up to encourage or reward collaboration across teams and departments. According to Ian Altman, an expert on integrity selling and a best-selling author, customer experience isn’t just the domain of the customer service team. “It’s a culture inside the organization. At every opportunity, we have to interact with clients and customers, either digitally or in person. We have to maximize and make the most of their experience, so they become raving fans and customers for life.”

But building a culture of customer accountability to support cross-organizational objectives isn’t always easy. It involves reprioritizing and realigning goals to ensure all employees are focused on working together to build long-term relationships with clients and customers alike.

Breaking down the boundaries

Part of the hurdle to breaking out of silos and achieving organizational alignment lies in the way departments and individuals are evaluated and compensated. For example, sales departments and sales people often work on a commission basis – the more business they bring in, the more money they get paid. But what about the customer service rep who resolves an issue that could cost the company a loyal customer? What’s their reward? Or a sales person who gets compensated on a sale and then doesn’t deliver for the client, costing the company a major account. What’s their accountability?

Too often a company’s compensation strategy doesn’t align with the real value of a client or customer relationship.

“The metrics are out of whack,” says Curtis Bingham, founder and CEO of the Chief Customer Officer Council. “Customer success should be all about ensuring customers are getting full value out of products and services.”

This is one reason why more and more companies are changing how they reward salespeople to include metrics such as net promoter scores or customer adoption rates. For instance, in this scenario, a software company wouldn’t measure success by sales alone, but also by how easily customers can install the product and make it work. This scenario would include consumer uses as well as enterprise applications.

Changing the business model

The issues surrounding compensation and incentives aren’t limited to sales. In fact, according to Gartner, too many companies use different criteria to reward customer service representatives versus people in other departments in the organization. Rewards for customer service reps are often based on consistency, reducing errors and following rules, whereas people in other departments are often rewarded for creativity and experimentation. It’s a management approach that can lead to lower-quality service interactions and even more mistakes. A better approach involves investing in collaboration and rewarding collaborative behavior.

To do this, says McKinsey principal Harald Fanderl, organizations need to see customer experience holistically. “It’s important that you as a company have the whole journey in sight,” he says, instead of different customer journeys per division. Fanderl urges companies to create more “cross-functional collaboration across divisions,” including sales and marketing, operations and even IT and finance. “Then think about how you can improve this [entire] customer journey along the various touch points.”

Changing the culture

It’s easy to say customer service is everyone’s job, but companies also need to give employees the training and tools to help them deliver the right experience, says Jeannie Walters, chief customer experience investigator and founder of consultancy 360Connext. The right tools and training can also create cross-department collaboration that helps instill the voice of the customer into the core of the product– from technical solutions, to marketing strategies that acknowledge the influence of the consumer, to cross-organizational compensation plans based on customer retention and return value.

Ultimately, the challenges most companies face when adopting a cross-organizational approach to customer experience come back to a company’s culture –from organizational change that forces people out of their comfort zone and reinforces shared goals based on a singular customer focus, to management change agents willing to disrupt the way business has always been done.

Maybe it’s time to change the famous “Always Be Closing” dictum from Glengarry Glen Ross to “Always Be Collaborating.” In an age of transformation, every sale should reflect a shared commitment to always putting the customer first.