Lean Into Difficult CX Decisions

Focus on areas where value and objectives conflict to deliver outsize returns.

Every November, Jason worked through two seemingly mundane decisions for a retail manager: Plan employee training for the month and set the next month’s staffing plan, both in preparation for the busy upcoming holiday shopping season. As an experienced retail manager with decades of experience, he had done this many times before. What he didn’t realize was the extent to which his approach to these two decisions significantly impacted the customer experience in his store and for the entire brand.

Creating a culture of exceptional customer experience lies in the nexus, and struggle, between values and objectives

Tasked with reducing costs, he strove to minimize training and staffing, but he did so without understanding how these decisions impacted his other primary goal of providing an in-store experience that improved customer engagement and lifted sales. Left to his own devices, he tended to minimize costs — the easiest store metric to control — but one that left him wondering about the impact on customer satisfaction and sales.

The key to building a great customer experience (CX) lies not in the relatively easy decisions, such as training check-out and floor associates to deliver exceptional service. That’s not a particularly tough or uncertain decision for retail managers like Jason. Setting appropriate staffing levels that meet the organization’s difficult holiday cost-optimization goals while ensuring the short lines and rapid, available support customers expect, however, is difficult. Jason was left to work out how these decisions might impact the bottom line and customer satisfaction, loyalty and brand advocacy.

Creating a culture of exceptional customer experience lies in the nexus, and struggle, between values and objectives.

“Explore your organization’s commitment to its CX values not in the comfortable center of each value, where decisions and actions are clear, but on the edges, where your brand’s CX values clash with each other or with other corporate objectives,” says Augie Ray, research director, Gartner for Marketers.

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Simple CX objectives may not be so simple

Ordinary CX objectives cannot deliver extraordinary changes that are noticeable and differentiating to customers. “Make things easy for customers and reduce friction” is a typical CX value adopted by many companies in some form or another. Although this goal is useful and admirable, it can be vague and require further guidance. After all, you already have experts who create and execute programs that are easy and intuitive for customers, such as mobile app designers and customer care teams.

Seek decisions at the edge

To turn this self-evident and uninspiring mandate into something powerful that sparks change, define what “making things easy” means where it is most difficult to accomplish. For example, your brand may also have a corporate goal of protecting customers’ interests, but these goals conflict. Should a website designer choose easy sign-in or one with complicated password rules and multifactor authentication? Absent more guidance, employees are left to arbitrate conflicting brand goals, raising risks and diminishing efficiency. Look for where CX goals built around “easy” may conflict with other strategic imperatives.

Brands that seek to stimulate the most powerful CX changes must explore the actions and decisions at the edges, where CX values conflict with each other and with the organization’s short-term financial aims.

  • Amazon chose to put customer ease above potential customer data risks when it patented 1-Click purchase in 1999 — a time when few consumers trusted online credit card transactions and other retailers were hesitant to accept the risk of storing such secure data.
  • Zappos empowers employees to take time with and make things easy for customers rather than emphasizing call-handling time and cost containment.  
  • Ritz-Carlton launched an app enabling mobile check-in despite its deeply held core brand principle that values the in-person interaction provided by on-site staff.

All three of these brands succeeded by enabling tough, bold calls for what CX means to their organizations. Define your corporate values and employee decisions where they are most difficult. You will improve CX outcomes and encourage greater employee attention, involvement and change while turning your obvious, irrefutable and easy CX values into a powerful lever of transformation by guiding the most difficult organizational choices.

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