4 Top Pitfalls of CX Initiatives

The rapidly accelerated adoption of digital interaction channels driven by the pandemic is here to stay. From AI enabled chatbots, to mobile, to smart TVs, and digital assistants, customers are electing to shop, bank, and even conduct virtual physician visits via digital channels.

And this proliferation of interaction channels is both a boon for enhanced customer experiences (CX) and a competitive differentiator for businesses.

Studies about the business value and challenges of implementing CX strategies and initiatives are too numerous to mention. But here are a couple of examples that demonstrate the range:

One headline from Forrester exclaims,
Improving Customer Experience By One Point Can Drive More Than A Billion Dollars In Revenue.”

Then, on the other hand,
CustomerThink Research Finds 75% of Customer Experience (CX) Initiatives Fail to Prove Business Value.”

If you look hard enough, you can find stats that support whatever position you prefer to believe. But, even if the most dire predictions of CX success are true, some initiatives are clearly succeeding.

The challenge is to find the right ones for your organization and knowing how to improve your chances for success.

Following are 4 of the top pitfalls that await you…and what you can do to prevent them.

Pitfall #1: Your Customer Journeys have too many potholes – and you don’t know how fill them

  1. The data about your customers’ touches are siloed, resulting in poor, often inconsistent customer experiences.

  2. You don’t know how to quantify/weigh customer pain points and missed opportunities.

  3. You don’t know how to design solutionsand prioritize their implementation.

Pitfall #1 – The Fix: Start with what you have and what you know

  1. Find your “Crucial Question.”You know, the one that’s keeping you up at night – the single most essential issue that you must solve if you are to achieve your organization’s vision, mission, and goals. Start there.At the risk of violating the sacred “Customer First” aphorism, if you’re in the private sector, I believe that you need to attend to your customer, your employees, and your business at the same time. They represent the three legs of a stool that renders stability and benefit to all.

    If, for example, you’re killing it on customer acquisitions, but those gains are being offset by runaway customer churn, you need to address that problem or you won’t have any customers to “put first.”

    It is essential, therefore, to frame your Crucial Question in terms of what is best for your customers, your employees, and your business.

    In this example, the Crucial Question would be transformed from, “What can we do NOW to stem our high customer churn rates?” to “What can we do NOW to earn our customers’ and our employees’ loyalty?”

  2. Next, create a customer journey map. It can be as simple as creating a column for your customer interaction channels and a row for each stage in your customer’s journey. This can be done using butcher paper and sticky notes in a physical environment or using collaboration software like Miro (free) for remote or hybrid collaborations.

    Journey mapping can be done on the granular level (e.g., for customer segments or personas), but broader strokes are a good way to start.

    There are numerous examples of customer journey mapping that can found on the internet and a wide range of tools from free to very expensive (why not start with free!).

  3. Conduct “Pain/Gain” session(s) with one or more cross functional groups of between 6 – 12 people. Don’t forget to include some customer facing personnel (more on this in Pitfall #4 below).

    Have each team identify the Pains and Gains (missed opportunities) across the customer journey and its touchpoints. Do this from the perspective of the customer, employees, partners, and other key stakeholders.

  4. Overlay customer Pains and Gains (previously assembled) from data gathered from your various interaction channels. These can range from simple customer satisfaction survey results to sophisticated omnichannel platforms that consolidate and analyze Voice of the Customer data from all interaction channels. But again, start with what you have.

    Explore the gaps between the qualitative views of the team and the quantitative data about your customers. If the team identifies considerable customer pain around delayed refunds for example, but your CSAT surveys don’t bear this out, dig deeper.

    Could customer facing personnel be misperceiving the frequency of customer Pains due to the toll of interacting with irate customers? Or could there be a problem with your metrics underreporting such problems? (See Pitfall #2, below).

  5. Organize these Pains and Gains into common themes and rate them. Next brainstorm (or ideate, if you prefer) potential solutions for relieving pains and leveraging gains.
  6. Prioritize solutions according to how well each addresses your “Crucial Question.”

    If you choose, you could drill down from there to explore the dimensions of ROI, time to realized benefits, organizational capacity, and so on.

  7. Establish Measures of Success for each proposed solution (see Pitfall #2, below) and present them to senior management (see Pitfall #3, below) for approval.

Pitfall #2: Figures lie…Customers (and reputations) suffer

Simply put, no CX initiative should be launched without establishing measures of success. Whether you use metrics, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), OKRs (Objective Key Results) or other frameworks, how they are to be measured, and how you set targets for each, are essential steps.

But above all, they must be valid, and they must reflect the underlying business purpose they are intended to measure.

The fact is that metrics can, all too often, lead us to the wrong conclusions with disastrous results. Three ways this can happen:

  1. You might simply choose the wrong metric to begin with. Take Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) as an example. While CSAT is a valuable metric (when properly implemented), it may not correlate to the underlying customer behavior that you are trying to measure and influence (e.g., CX initiative’s impact on customer retention).

    After all, customers can be satisfied one day and defect to a competitor with a higher perceived value the next.

  2. Your metrics are telling you what you want to hear and not what you need to hear.
    Consider the Canada Revenue Agency, the CRA (Canada’s IRS), for example. The CRA’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights promises “the right to complete, accurate, clear, and timely information.” And yet, Canada’s Auditor General found this in a 2017 audit: “While the Agency reported that it met its targets for both access and timeliness, its performance measures were incomplete, and its call centres’ results were overstated.”

    How could this happen? Easy. A misleading metric was used: “Respond to calls in the agent queue within two minutes 80% of the time.”

    The catch: The CRA blocked more than half of inbound calls from entering the agent queue. Most callers got a busy signal or a message telling them to call back. In the end, just 36% of callers got through to an agent

    Compounding this customer service debacle, of those who did get through, many received inaccurate information. And yet, here too, the CRA reported it hit its target metric: “Percentage of accurately updated internal reference materials = 100%”

    Unfortunately, updated internal reference materials, while necessary, don’t measure customer outcomes that count. In the end, nearly 30% of callers received the wrong information.

  3. Metrics are subject to manipulation by some employees who are either trying to earn incentives or avoid looking bad. This can range from subtle manipulations to outright fraud.

    On the subtler side, I’ve observed some call center agents remind callers to hold for a survey when they’ve had a good interaction and “forget” to do so when a customer is irate. Though subtle, this manipulation can seriously skew customer satisfaction and NPS stats.

    For full-fledged fraud, look no further than the deceit perpetrated on Wells Fargo customers in 2016. In response to pressure from sales managers to achieve unrealistic sales quotas, millions of credit card and other accounts were fraudulently created.

Pitfall #2 – The Fix: Get the Metrics Right

  1. Ensure your metrics are aligned with your organization’s overarching vision, mission, and goals.
  2. Ask yourself, “What is the underlying purpose for the metric/KPI?” For example, high customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are generally considered leading indicators of future customer behavior and economic performance.

    If your initiative is focused on improving CSAT and NPS but the underlying purpose is to generate higher revenue, customer loyalty/retention, and improved brand reputation/reduced acquisition costs, shouldn’t those be your measures of success?

    At the very least, look for a strong positive correlation between CSAT/NPS and those desired outcomes

  3. Though the vast majority of agents are honest, you need to be aware of the few outliers who may not be. To identify the bad apples:
    1. Audit top performers. On the positive side, you should find a lot of best practices that could be shared with other agents. However, you need to also look for gaps in agent’s performance (whether CSAT, Sales, or other) vs. other performance indicators such as speech/voice analytics, internal Quality Assurance scores, and/or social media analytics, for example.
    2. In the case of extremely high performers, look at their customers’ downstream behavior. Are the customers they acquired still there 3 months later or are they churning out at a much higher rate? Are they significantly underperforming in terms of their repurchase rate?
    3. Have an independent organization conduct interviews and focus groups with agents. They are frequently a fount of information about how some of their colleagues are gaming the system.
    4. Perhaps most important of all, create a culture of trust. Always attempt to mentor and develop underperforming agents rather than punish or stigmatize them.

Pitfall #3: Lack of Senior Management Support

Whatever you are pitching, nothing will kill a CX Initiative faster than a failure to get and keep senior management on board.

Perhaps you learned this lesson early in your career (as I certainly did), but if you need some ideas to best position your business case to senior management, read on.

The key causes of failing to get executive buy in:

  1. Closely related to Pitfall #2, You failed to make your business case using tangible metrics tied to your organization’s corporate goals.
  2. You rely on generic industry stats to make your case (e.g., “XX% of customers defect after a bad customer experience”). How is “bad” defined/measured? How does that apply to your business?
  3. The risk of failure is simply too costly.

Pitfall #3 – The Fix: Get (and keep) Senior Management on Board

  1. 1. Do your homework
    1. Solve the right problem. Prioritize your customers’, employees’, and other key stakeholders’ greatest pains and gains (missed opportunities), and potential solutions across your Customers’ Journeys (see Pitfall #1 – The Fix)
    2. Don’t rely on “other people’s metrics.” What works for one company, even in the same market, may not work for yours. Use tangible metrics that are aligned with your corporate goals & objectives.
    3. Don’t rely on random research studies to make your business case. If you look hard enough, you’ll surely find those that support your case. But are they credible? Was the sample size large enough? Are the respondents qualified to answer survey questions or are they trying to win an Amazon gift card or a free report?

      Tip: Look for meta-analyses from dependable research firms which aggregate results from multiple studies for improved accuracy.

  2. Earn senior managers trust and commitment:
    1. Establish governance over your initiative(s) with clear charters for a steering committee and working groups. Use SteerCom to review progress and provide guidance at key milestones.
    2. Have working group leaders present the proposal to senior management, demonstrating their buy-in, ownership, and commitment.
    3. Present your initiatives’ ROI, time to realized benefits, risks and mitigations for inevitable bumps in the road.
    4. Software alone is not a silver bullet. Make sure your plan considers implementation, training, and continuous improvement.
    5. Pilot solution(s) before committing substantial investments.
    6. Have a phased plan for rolling out each with iterative “go-no go” checkpoints and rollback contingencies in a worst-case scenario.

Pitfall #4: Failure to engage your employees

Even with senior management on board, the lack of engagement by the rest of the organization can derail any new initiative.

  1. The employees who need to implement the new initiatives are often the last to hear about them.
  2. They are not “bought in” and have no investment or ownership of the plans. They can easily fall prey to naysaying that will undermine the success of the implementation.
  3. They are often ill prepared to implement new technologies and techniques because they lack sufficient guidance in terms of redesigned processes and effective training.
  4. New initiatives often create more work for the front-line employees charged with their successful rollout.

Pitfall #4 – The Fix: Engage your employees (including your customer facing employees) from the start

There’s ample evidence that employee engagement drives business success. A Gallup research study, for instance, found that organizations whose business units scored in the top quartile for employee engagement outperformed those in the bottom quartile across many performance metrics including 10% improvement in customer loyalty and 23% improvement in profitability.

[I’m compelled to note, considering my previous warnings about using “other people’s data,” that Gallup is a reliable research firm, and this is a meta-analysis].

Following are some proactive steps to encourage employee engagement and drive desired customer, employee, and business outcomes:

  1. Tap the genius of your customer facing employees at the earliest stage of any customer experience initiative’s design (e.g., the Customer Journey Pain/Gain sessions). They are, after all, the face of your organization to your customers, and they are a wellspring of knowledge about what customers need and want.

    By doing this, you will not only benefit from their wealth of customer knowledge, but you will engender ownership for the initiative that will help ensure its success.

  2. Select the most energetic and strongest communicators to act as ambassadors to the rest of their teams, mining additional ideas and keeping them well informed and excited about the upcoming changes.

  3. Redesign processes and workflows that can accelerate the training and proficiency of new practices and technologies.

  4. Establish a process of continuous improvement by designing feedback loops with customers and customer facing personnel.

    By doing so, management can get real time feedback on how customers are responding to new initiatives, what’s working, what’s not, and how to fix what’s not.

  5. Be sure to close the loop with your employees by recognizing and rewarding their input and keeping them up to date on changes that they may have spurred.

To summarize:

  1. If you don’t know where to start on CX strategy and initiative(s), start with what you know and what you have: Build your customer journey map (start small) and conduct one or more Pain/Gain Sessions to generate CX Strategies and prioritize initiatives.

  2. Get your metrics in order! Are they aligned with your organization’s overarching vision, mission, and goals? Are they validly measuring desired customer, business, and employee outcomes?

  3. Get your executives on board with the output of the preceding two steps and mitigate risk through proofs of concept. Establish governance to oversee the initiatives.

  4. Engage your employees to gain their insights and buy in. Model your new processes and make workflows accessible to guide their work and their interactions with customers. And be sure to establish a means for gathering feedback from employees and customers to ensure continuous improvements.

I help you fill the potholes in your customers’ journeys and create visual workflows for customer contact personnel to guide their customer interactions. Doing so, you can acquire and retain more customers and grow your profits.

Please share your thoughts on CX initiative challenges you have faced and ways you have overcome them. And comment “No Potholes” below if you would like to join me in a 30-minute consultation to help you fill your Customer Journeys’ potholes!

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