First published in Huffington Post on Nov 24, 2016
I recently chaired a two-day “Banker’s Customer Experience Summit” in Dubai. During such international events many people reach out as it’s a great opportunity to network and cross-pollinate ideas. This time, a young professional asked me if I could spend some time discussing ideas with her. This person stood out among the 150-odd people in the event because of the questions and observations that she made after the sessions, so I agreed.
The CX leader in a way is the customer’s chief problem solver. She also guides and orchestrates the problem-solving efforts of teams.
When I met her after the event, she told me that the summit had made her realise that a career in “customer experience” (CX) was her calling, and she wanted my guidance to make it happen. She explained that she did not yet have the required skills to become a CX leader. Here was a young leader who had spent around a decade in various industries, including banking, who believed that she did not have the requisite skills to become a customer experience executive. She was a great communicator, confident, passionate about customers and seemed to be someone who could influence, yet believed that she was not ready for a CX role! This was a great example of a leader thinking that technical skills are more important than embedding customer experience in an enterprise.
This piece is for all professionals who want to become CX leaders and need guidance on the skills they need to focus on. While the list can be long, I am sharing five skills which a CX leader can’t do without. As you shall see, most of them are not technical skills but soft skills that one needs to possess and master.
The art of taking an organisation along
This is perhaps the most important trait that every customer experience leader should possess. She is a change agent who should be in a position to engage stakeholders across levels to get the agenda moving. She should be comfortable with C-suite as well as have the ability to get down to the trenches to look at things from a shop-floor /front-office staff’s point of view. She should be in a position to speak the language of C-suite and make sure to communicate how her efforts align with the larger organisational vision. She should have the political competence to find who is with you and who is not and know the art to create a common agenda so that those who are not on board do jump on. She should also be in a position to hold leaders accountable when they don’t have customers’ interests in mind. She must remember that she is steering the company to take a customer-centric course.
A CX leader has to be an effective communicator and should have the conviction and confidence to take her message to the entire organisation. She should be in a position to create a compelling story around the customer’s agenda, create a sense of urgency and make sure it aligns with organisational aspirations, and make a case for what’s in it for individual employees.
A CX leader should have the patience to address customers’ pain points and bring their interests at the centre of everything that the company does.
This story has to be told at every forum—not just by her but by the C-suite and leaders below. She has to coach the top management and other leaders (if required) on how their message evokes emotions that will make employees behave in a more customer-oriented way, and thus make the company customer-centric.
Also, there might be occasions when she will have to push for ideas that positively impact customers, but which don’t have many supporters among decision-makers. Then she has to demonstrate the courage to stick to the idea until key decision-makers change their mind. In all her change efforts there could be times when she might be belittled by those who need to go out of their comfort zone, but she should never lose her confidence and composure.
Quite a bit of what a CX leader does is a problem-solving. In fact, the CX transformation journey is the outcome of large and small problem-solving efforts. The CX leader in a way is the customer’s chief problem solver. She also guides and orchestrates the problem-solving efforts of teams. What helps here is the ability of the individual to break problems into small chunks, and then following a structured approach to resolve them. This is a skill that she has to ensure gets embedded in the organisation towards challenging the status-quo and building an engine of continuous improvement.
There are various problem solving methods and I am not recommending which one should adopted. However, teams should follow a structured approach so that the root causes are identified and fixed so that problems don’t erupt again. Problem-solving skills are required by all, be it a shop-floor person, front-office executive, middle management or someone in the C-suite. And the CX leader has to lead this effort especially if this is a deficient capability in the firm.
Passion for customers
A CX leader should be passionate about customers have good understanding of their psyche and what gets them engaged. He should represent the customer’s interest in the company and work towards meeting them. He should have the patience to address customers’ pain points and bring their interests at the centre of everything that the company does. He also builds a concept of internal-customers for organisational processes. He installs standards and regularly gauges health through metrics. He also keeps an eye on the changing aspirations of customers across generations and also keeps tabs on digital trends. Most importantly he works towards making customer experience everyone’s business, talking it from talk to action.
CX transformation know-how
The CX leader should know the broad building blocks that make an enterprise known to consumers for distinctive experience. He should know the general blueprint that needs to be adopted in a CX journey. This comprises things that impact both customer performance and organisational heath. The former focuses on hard stuff such as process, technology etc while the latter focus on things such as mindsets, leadership, change-management etc.
Knowing the deployment know-how helps but gaps in knowledge are not a barrier in becoming a CX leader. One can always get consultants from outside or deploy the skills of members in the team who have led such efforts in the past. I’d go as far as to recommend that’s always better to get an expert in the initial days to guide through the effort.
What’s non-negotiable, though, are the earlier four points.